IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Charging, Cost Still Roadblocks to EV for Ride-Hail Drivers

Despite electric vehicles’ lower operational costs, a lack of charging access and purchase incentives still creates obstacles for taxi and ride-hailing drivers. Advocacy groups and public agencies hope to stimulate improvements.

A row of taxis is in the background of a person's hands using a mobile ride-hailing app.
The cost of electric vehicles, the availability of charging opportunities and even the cost of charging continue to be roadblocks for ride-hail drivers.

The way forward, however, continues to evolve, Jarvis Murray, commercial rideshare and mobility administrator at the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, said Tuesday during “Accelerating EV Adoption for Gig Drivers,” a webinar organized by Forth Mobility, an EV advocacy and public policy group based in Portland, Ore.

“They see the value. They want to get the vehicles. And even as I ask about range anxiety, that doesn’t seem to be as big of an issue anymore. ... The biggest thing that I got was, ‘I’m going to have trouble charging it,’” said Murray, who oversees policy for the for-hire transportation industry.

Groups like Forth, as well as city and state agencies, have given particular attention to efforts to transition the taxi and ride-hailing industry to zero-emission vehicles. The benefits — like reduced emissions and reduced operating costs — tend to multiply for this sector, where zero-emission personal vehicles see heavier use than conventional. Drivers on platforms like Uber and Lyft tend to use efficient hybrid vehicles six times more than non-rideshare drivers, said Ian Sergeant, program manager at Forth. He focused on projects related to education and the adoption of EVs for drivers of transportation network companies (TNCs) in some of his comments on the panel.

But Sergeant and others stressed that many drivers for TNCs, as Uber and Lyft are known, often come from marginalized communities, are not high-earners and live in apartments. Research shows the average UberEats delivery driver earns just over $20 an hour in Portland, while the average Uber driver’s annual earning is just over $44,000, said Amy Corbett, chief program officer for Metropolitan Family Service, a nonprofit lender in Portland.

“A strong majority of gig workers who drive EVs choose them for economic reasons,” she said.

Those economic reasons often center on the total-cost-of-ownership factors, which take into account the cost of charging and maintenance costs — both of which experts say are generally cheaper than operating a gas-powered car.

“Drivers can start benefiting financially from driving EVs within the first few years of ownership. But again, that’s if they can get past the hurdle of high purchase prices and if they can qualify for loans that aren’t predatory,” said Sergeant.

In addition to policies and incentives to make it easier for TNC drivers to purchase EVs, access to affordable, available charging remains an obstacle. More Level 2 overnight charging in houses and apartment buildings and discount Level 3 high-speed charging are needed, Sergeant said.

To help address this need, Portland General Electric has partnered with Shell Recharge to install fast-chargers in business districts around the Portland area, he said. The system supports subscriptions for $25 a month, which provides unlimited off-peak charging for drivers. During peak hours — 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. — the cost was 19 cents per kilowatt, far less than the roughly 50 cents per kilowatt many fast-chargers cost.

“That has definitely created a bridge for people who may be able to access electrified transportation,” Sergeant said.

Murray, in Los Angeles, recalled conversations he’s had with TNC drivers who tend to be supportive of electric cars in principle but still say the practicalities around owning one are arduous.

A driver who bought a Volkswagen EV — and loved it — soon found that charging the car turned out to be too much “of a hassle,” Murray said: “Even though they recognize the maintenance cost will be cheaper, it’s still a challenge, again, for the infrastructure piece."
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.