Spearheading Uber's electrification

6th December 2021
Beatrice O'Flaherty

In 2019, Uber committed to fully electrifying its fleet of vehicles in London by 2025. On top of this, the company has pledged a succession of other electric vehicle (EV) commitments across the globe. This includes becoming 50% electric in seven European cities by 2030. By 2040 it claims that will be net zero. How practical are these promises, and what is Uber doing to bring about change?

Uber’s Regional General Manager for Northern & Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood, led a seminar at MOVE 2021, London. He discussed the ways that Uber’s work in London serves as the template that will be implemented to electrify other cities.

Of the 45,000 vehicles in Uber, London’s fleet, 4,000 of these are electric. At almost 10%, Heywood suggested that the trajectory of the acceleration of vehicles is rapidly increasing. In the two and a half years since Uber's initial commitment, it has seen its number of EVs multiply 28 times. This means that London Uber drivers are twelve times more likely than the average driver to have an EV.

Everything starts with the driver

Tens of thousands of drivers will have to make the jump to an EV. Such a decision must take into account the cost of transition, the earning potential, and the availability of charging infrastructure.

Factors such of these plague not only Uber drivers, but most car owners seeking to making the switch. Debate surrounds the ways that government and businesses can interact with potential buyers to encourage and incentive EV uptake.

One such incentive that Uber announced was its ‘clean air fee’. This initially added an extra 15p per mile to trips taken through London. The money accumulated by drivers could be put toward the purchase or lease of an EV.

The money would be generated solely from the miles travelled during the trip, not to the pick-up location. The fee would also not be deducted from the driver’s salary. Over £135m was raised through the fee, which translates to approximately £3,000 to £4,000 in the average driver’s savings.

Uber reduced the clean air fee earlier this year, to just 3p per mile in an attempt to expedite the switch (rather than having drivers just save up the money).

Further measures include partnerships with electric vehicle OEMs such as Tesla, Nissan, Arrival and Kia, to make EVs cheaper and more accessible. Such manufacturers are also working closely with financial providers to make sure that drivers have access to funds at affordable rates.

Infrastructure as the barrier

Despite the aforementioned initiatives, Heywood suggested that the bigger hurdle to overcome is creating access to charging infrastructure.

The majority of drivers do not have a driveway, meaning that 85% of London drivers will have to rely on overnight, public charging points for their cars. Charging density is far lower in the areas in which Uber drivers live. As a result, Uber has committed £5m to build chargers at accessible public places where they can be utilised overnight.

Uber has also partnered with companies such as BP pulse to give drivers access to rapid charging in city centres. Slower charging points will be found on the outskirts, closer to where they live.

The final incentive that Uber has tried to implement is the creation of ‘Uber Green’ as an option on the company's app. Anyone that selects this option will complete their journey in an EV.

Heywood said that this is priced the same as Uber X, clearly incentivising customers to select the environmental alternative. Consequently, this should start a cycle in which demand favours Uber Green, thus encouraging ICE (internal combustion engine vehicle) drivers to upgrade.

The flywheel effect

Governments, local authorities and the private sector must play a part in this transition to EVs. Heywood suggested that initial investments, especially in charging infrastructure, must be made in order to get the proverbial flywheel turning.

A regulatory environment must also be ensured to encourage the private sector to invest. Having questioned why London is one of the cities with the most Uber EVs in use, Heywood suggesyed that this is due to factors such as the congestion charge, by which ICE vehicle drivers have to pay about £15 per day to come into the city.

Heywood said: “As soon as they do that, they tip the balance to create the economic incentives between drivers to upgrade to electric vehicles.”

In order to bring about meaningful and effective change, combined efforts are required by drivers, car users and various authorities to ensure cleaner air and a more sustainable world.

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