Uber has pledged to make all of its rides in North America and Europe fully electric by 2030, after a new report found the ride-hailing company’s operations to be more damaging to the environment than private transportation.
Uber said it was “beginning to compete” with personal car ownership on carbon efficiency, but added that emissions from Uber rides were still 41 per cent higher when compared with an average-occupancy vehicle — due to the time spent driving without passengers in the car, for instance when driving to pick up a client.
The company said that it hoped to achieve at least 50 per cent electric trips in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, Madrid and Paris by 2025, while in London the goal is to reach 100 per cent electric by that time, as previously announced.
The move follows the release of Uber’s first-ever environmental impact report, based on data from every single Uber ride taken in the US and Canada from 2017-19 — approximately 4bn trips.
According to the report, emissions per “passenger mile” had gone down overall, since improved algorithms had reduced passengerless travel. But based on the average vehicle occupancy rate in the US, its emissions per passenger mile still outstripped those of privately owned vehicles.
It said its service was less carbon-intensive than taxis and other private hire vehicles, as well as driving a private car by yourself.
“This is a start, and we expect to be judged against our actions,” said Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi in a statement accompanying the report.
“The ultimate success of our business will rest on our ability to transition our platform to clean energy in partnership with drivers, industry innovators and governments.”
Calls for Uber and other ride-share companies to urgently electrify their fleets have grown amid evidence of increased congestion, and a tendency for people to opt for ride-share rather than vastly more efficient public transit options.
This year, rival service Lyft, which operates only in the US and Canada, said it would make its fleet all-electric by 2030.
In 2019, a mere 0.15 per cent of Uber trips in the US and Canada were taken in fully electric cars.
“[Uber] is motivated by the fact that they’re under tremendous pressure in a lot of places to have a lot more congenial relationship with government and the public,” said Professor Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. “But I think this is a genuine commitment. There are not many companies that have laid out such a specific set of actions.”
Uber’s promise was welcomed by the Brussels-based campaign group Transport and Environment, which had, along with a number of other NGOs, called on Uber to address its outsized impact on emissions.
“People across Europe are sick of pollution and congestion,” said William Todts, T&E’s executive director.
“Shared electric mobility is key to solving these problems. And the right place to start is with high-mileage drivers who’ll benefit first from cheaper-to-run, clean electric vehicles.”
As part of its plans, Uber said it would expand Uber Green, an option within the Uber app that allows customers to specifically request a hybrid or electric car for their trip, adding a $1 surcharge that is split evenly between the driver and a fund Uber says is invested into green initiatives.
Yet the ambitious targets will mean some drivers will be forced to buy an electric car in order to keep driving for Uber — a situation enforced in places such as Lisbon, where only electric vehicles are allowed for new drivers on the platform. Previously, union groups have raised concerns that demands to go electric would put pressure on drivers to take on debt to finance new, expensive vehicles.
To help drivers make the transition, Uber said it would commit $800m in resources to schemes, such as securing discounts from major automakers. In January, Uber announced a partnership with Nissan to provide 2,000 of its Leaf electric cars to London Uber drivers, at a below the market rate.
Globally, Uber has said it will be able to become a “fully zero-emission platform” by 2040, with all trips through its app being done on either electric cars, shared mobility such as scooters, or public transit.
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