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Ride-Hailing Is Becoming More Electrified, Despite the Barriers

An increasing number of Uber and Lyft trips in the United States, Canada and other countries are happening in a zero-emission car, as ride-hailing platforms push for electric vehicle adoption.

The chances that the next trip you take by a ride-hailing service will be powered by a zero-emission vehicle is only increasing.

Today, one out of 60 miles traveled in a ride-hailed car in major cities in the United State and Canada — such as those arranged through the Uber or Lyft platforms — are made with a zero-emission vehicle.

“So we’re very pleased by this. Still in the early days. A long way to go,” said Adam Gromis, Uber public policy manager of sustainability and environmental impact.

This is an increase from a year ago when one in every 300 miles was traveled with a zero-emission vehicle, Gromis added, speaking on a panel July 27 at the Veloz Summit, centered on “Navigating the EV Ecosystem.”

Ride-hailing platforms like Uber and Lyft are both actively investing in the electrification of the service, through various approaches ranging from offering drivers an electric vehicle to rent to cash rebates, such as a pilot program Lyft is leading in Detroit that offers drivers $5,000 off the cost of an EV if they complete a certain number of rides within a set time frame.

“And if that’s successful, we hope to roll that out with other electric utilities around the country,” said Jon Walker, environmental sustainability manager for Lyft, also speaking on the panel.

Lyft also operates a rental program for drivers in a number of markets, and plans to electrify the entire fleet in the “next several years,” said Walker.

But the evolution of electrified mobility in the ride-hailing sector has stumbled upon some of the same obstacles as the more conventional driving public. A survey of 16,000 Uber drivers across the United States, Canada and Europe showed charging concerns ranks as the second most frequent barrier. The cost of an EV ranked as the No. 1 barrier.

“This is a big question,” said Gromis, as he advocated for charging distribution in plans that help to serve Uber drivers, who often reside in rental housing and may come from disadvantaged communities. Drivers need medium-speed Level 2 charging at home, where they can recharge their cars at night, and easy access to high-speed charging in downtown, urban and other high-traffic areas.

“I love the idea of a transcontinental, coast-to-coast EV charging network. That’s a great idea,” said Gromis, referring to the plan by the federal government to build out a high-speed charging network along major corridors across the nation. The five-year plan is part of the new infrastructure law. “But while you’re building it, don’t forget where people live and where most miles and emissions happen.”

An ideal scenario, said Walker, would be the development of Level 2 chargers, which only need a 220-volt outlet and are common in residential settings, in multi-family housing complexes, making an EV a viable option for a Lyft driver — or anyone who lives there.

“Because they wake up everyday with a full tank. And they don’t pay gasoline prices,” said Walker.

Too often policymakers and others look to low-income communities and do not see many EVs, and then pass on installing infrastructure.

“And then you get into a chicken and egg problem, and I think we need to break through that,” he added.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.