Equilibrium & Sustainability

Electrified rideshare fleets a missed opportunity for emissions cuts: report

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Electrifying the U.S. ride-sharing fleet would lead to significant reductions in carbon emissions — but requisite incentives to make that happen remain widely unavailable, a new report from the World Resources Institute and Uber has found.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) argues that electrifying “intensively used” rideshares like Uber and Lyft will deliver emissions reductions faster than a similar focus on passenger cars.

That’s because rideshare drivers drive about three times as many miles a day on average than the total for private car owners — who make up 58 percent of US transportation emissions — and they currently do it overwhelmingly in internal combustion engine cars, the report found.

But because of entrenched financial and infrastructure barriers to adoption, American and Canadian rideshare drivers are far less likely to drive electric vehicles than private car owners, in large part because they have been “overlooked” by policymakers.

The first and most obvious of these is cost: electric vehicles are generally more expensive than gas-powered cars — not to mention the cost of charging them — and rideshare drivers are disproportionately lower income, the report found.

In some cases, the higher upfront cost of an electric vehicle is often balanced by lower operating costs. But taking advantage of that long-term benefit requires having access to the cash, subsidies or loans to buy it — something unavailable to “people with low incomes, low or no credit scores, or existing debt burdens.”

Like rideshare drivers themselves, their cars fall in the gap between private and commercially-owned, meaning they get missed by measures aimed at light-commercial vehicles — like delivery vans — and publicly owned ones, the report found.

Meanwhile, electric vehicle subsidies aren’t “strategically targeted,” the report found: rather than focus on high-mileage vehicles or low-income households, 70 percent of tax credits went to “households that would have bought an electric vehicle anyway.”

This inequity persists when it comes time to charge an electric vehicle. At-home overnight charging is unavailable to many rideshare drivers, who tend to live in rentals or multifamily apartment complexes, which are far less likely to have — or to allow tenants to install — charging stations. 

This forces many of the 14 percent of electric vehicle drivers who are lower income to charge at comparatively more expensive public charging stations, the report found — and helps dissuade potential adopters. Uber’s pilot project in London found that anxiety about reliable charging was the key obstacle to electric vehicle adoption.

A confusing hodgepodge of information on the availability of everything from subsidies and charging stations to accurate lifetime costs for electric vehicles also make it harder for rideshare drivers to imagine a switch.

The policy solutions advocated by the report involve, in a word, cooperation: WRI wants ride-hailing services, local governments and power utilities to target subsidies and incentives to rideshare drivers; put charging stations where they are most needed; work out electricity pricing schemes make charging affordable; and get drivers familiar with electric vehicles long before their existing cars die.

For example, on the charging side, “right to plug” laws could allow renters to install charging stations in rentals at their own expense, and collaboration between municipalities and rideshare companies can determine the best locations for new high-speed public chargers. 

The report also recommends that power utility companies experiment with flexible pricing strategies to nudge drivers to charge their cars at cheaper off-peak hours.

By roughly following this policy package, the report found, cities like Amsterdam, London and Vancouver have all reached a higher percentage of electrification in their rideshare fleet than in their overall fleet. 

“In many cities, this opportunity is currently being missed,” according to the report.

Tags carbon emissions Climate change Electric vehicles
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