Uber Copter is a service where New Yorkers can ride in a helicopter from Manhattan to JFK International Airport for about $200. That might sound pretty cool, especially if you’re rich and can actually afford that fare, but it’s really bad news if you’re worried about climate change.
According to a recent Jalopnik report, Uber’s helicopters burn around 88 gallons of fuel per hour. To put that in perspective, an idling care burns less than a gallon of gas in an hour. It’s pretty clear this helicopter service is not an environmentally-friendly transportation option.
Darby Jack, an associate professor of environmental health science at Columbia University, told Vice in July that Uber Copter is seriously problematic.
“It’s a step in the wrong direction in an era when we should be doing everything possible to move society towards a low-carbon, clean footing,” Jack said. He said emissions from helicopters are particularly high when they’re idling.
“This would include both CO2 and particulate air pollution,” Jack said.
That said, you’re not doing the climate any favors when you order an Uber car ride, either. In a 2017 study done by researchers at UC Davis, it was found people were taking trips with Uber and similar services instead of taking public transit, walking or biking to their destinations. That’s bad for the climate. Furthermore, a study done earlier this year found Ubers and Lyfts are traveling with no passengers about a third of the time. That would seemingly mean cars that wouldn’t otherwise need to be on the road are burning through gas while looking for the next ride.
To be fair to Lyft, the company announced last year that it was going carbon neutral. Uber has not done this. Lyft is going carbon neutral by investing in carbon offset projects. Uber announced last year that it would incentivize its drivers to switch to electric or hybrid vehicles, but it’s unclear how much of an impact that’s had.
As for Uber Copter, it appears New York isn’t the only place where it’ll be doing damage to the environment. Uber is planning on expanding this service to multiple other U.S. cities. The more helicopters they put in the air, the more damage they’ll do. At a time when we’re facing a serious climate crisis, flying rich people around in a machine that consumes fuels like the Cookie Monster consumes cookies seems, to put it kindly, irresponsible.
An Uber representative tells Inverse that this service is not going to be around forever and will eventually be replaced with a flight service that is more environmentally friendly.
“Uber Copter is meant to be short term, generating operational and technological learnings for Uber Air, which will offer pooled rides on all electric, zero emission eVTOLs. The flight schedule is limited to weekday afternoons and all flights are shared, matching and pooling individual riders together,” the representative says. “From the beginning, Uber Elevate has required that all our vehicle partners must develop zero emission eVTOLs to be a part of our commercial operations, which we plan to start in 2023. Consequently, our focus with Uber Copter is on perfecting software operations for multimodal trips, not on building a long term helicopter option.”
Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Research shows emissions from air travel are currently increasing. If we don’t severely reduce emissions that are created by our transportation systems, we’re not going to be able to stop the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change. Skip the helicopter and take the train.