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People will need to share electric robotaxis to avoid increased emissions, a study found. Photo: Cruise

Electric, self-driving taxis might not be the answer to our climate problems that many people think, a new study finds.

Why it matters: Transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which is one reason that the Biden administration is pushing for a rapid shift to electrification.

  • But instead of reducing energy consumption and emissions that contribute to climate change, widespread deployment of electric robotaxis could exacerbate those problems, the joint Harvard-MIT study found.

What they're saying: “While electric vehicles themselves have lower emissions than traditional gasoline-powered ones, our work shows that deploying electric robocabs en masse on America’s streets could actually increase the number of trips, miles driven and overall emissions,” says Harvard law professor Ashley Nunes, the study's lead author.

What they did: By studying data from San Francisco, Nunes’ team concluded that the convenience of ubiquitous fleets of robotaxis would increase demand for rides, generating more trips and more vehicle miles traveled — erasing the electric vehicles' environmental benefits.

Key takeaway: To avoid worsening emissions, electric robotaxis would need to be 55% cleaner than today's EVs — or people need to stop riding solo, the study concluded.

  • Without more renewable energy sources, as many as 75% of rides would need to be shared, up from 20% today.

Yes, but: The pandemic has soured people on ride-pooling, Nunes acknowledges, which means robocabs must reduce their carbon footprint even more.

What's needed: The researchers offered several policy recommendations, including:

  • Clean up the electricity grid, using more renewable energy sources.
  • Rather than subsidizing EV purchases, federal and state governments could offer discounts for ride-pooling.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 27, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Pity the "green" car buyer

Expand chart
Data: IHS Markit Data; Note: Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Americans are more open than ever to trading in their gas cars for electrified vehicles — but they're flummoxed by the confusing array of green options arriving in showrooms.

Why it matters: Getting up to speed on the differences among hybrids, plug-in hybrids and battery-electric vehicles will be a challenge for car buyers — and salespeople, too — as we transition away from gas-powered vehicles over the next decade.

First look: Senators propose bill to ban corporate PACs

Sens. Jon Ossoff and Mark Kelly. Photos: Chip Somodevilla (left), Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images

Sens. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) will soon propose a bill prohibiting for-profit corporations from establishing and managing political action committees, according to a copy of the legislation obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The introduction of "The Ban Corporate PACs Act" comes amid heightened scrutiny on Capitol Hill regarding money in politics, including efforts to bar companies from influencing political campaigns and federal elections. It would likely face a court challenge and First Amendment concerns.

46 mins ago - Technology

Exclusive: YouTube shuts down two Oath Keepers channels

Stewart Rhodes, founder of Oath Keepers. (Photo: Aaron C. Davis/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

YouTube has deactivated two channels linked to the Oath Keepers militia group whose members have been charged in relation to the January 6 Capitol riot, the company told Axios.

The big picture: Social media platforms that were used to plan or promote the Capitol attack have moved with varying degrees of speed to bar the accounts involved.