Jul 2, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Why going electric makes sense for ride-hailing

Illustration of the world as a car wheel.

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Deploying electric vehicles instead of gasoline-powered models for services like Uber and Lyft provides outsized climate benefits compared to emissions cuts from electric vehicles for only personal use, per a peer-reviewed study in Nature Energy.

Why it matters: The analysis, based on California data, follows explosive growth in ride-hailing in recent years — and evidence that it's cannibalizing more climate-friendly mass transit.

  • The study is based on data provided by Uber and Lyft as well as charging providers, which together provide a detailed look at how the limited number of electric vehicles in the ride-hailing fleets actually operate in the real world.

The big picture: "[T]he potential environmental and emission reduction benefits are approximately three times higher for electric vehicles being used in ride-hailing compared with those of regular vehicle usage in California," finds the paper by Alan Jenn. He's with the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis.

How it works: There's a couple of big reasons expanding what's now a small number of electric vehicles in ride-sharing is helpful from an emissions standpoint.

  • One is that ride-hailing vehicles log lots of miles, so the comparative advantage of a zero-emissions vehicle becomes proportionately higher.
  • And the charging profile of the ride-hailing vehicle is different than cars used only for personal needs. The ride-hailing cars tend to charge during the day when solar penetration on the grid is higher.

Where it stands: The paper comes as California regulators and ride-hailing companies are seeking to increase the amount of electric vehicles used in the industry.

  • Most recently, Lyft announced a goal in June to have 100% electric vehicles (or other zero-emissions models) on its platform by 2030.
  • But the plan assumes significant help from state and federal policymakers.
  • Electric vehicle adoption in ride-hailing is challenging because the vast majority of vehicles are driver-owned and electric vehicles currently have higher up-front costs.

Go deeper: Global electric vehicle sales topped 2 million in 2019

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