Lift-sharing apps that pool multiple customers into a single car are often marketed as environmentally conscious options for travelling around cities. After all, more people in one vehicle means less of them on the roads, fewer miles travelled, and a supposed reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
However, mounting evidence suggests that Uber and Lyft actually generate 70% more pollution than the trips they displace. In other words, people are using lift sharing apps as a replacement for cleaner options like buses, bikes, or walking, rather than just traditional taxi runs.
Demand for greener solutions has been growing and interest in electric vehicles is continuing to surge thanks to companies like Tesla and new sports tournaments like Extreme E. Electric cars were once seen as a clumsy and ‘uncool’ option, especially among petrol purists, but as the climate crisis worsens its becoming obvious that we have to ditch petrol in the immediate future.
Uber is keen to save itself cash in places like London, where all private-for-hire vehicles must now pay £11.50 a day as part of a newly introduced congestion charge from TfL, unless they produce zero-emissions. The company launched a ‘Clean Air Plan’ initiative in response which adds an extra 15p to each mile travelled for all rides around the city. This extra bump up in price is then put towards eventually switching out London drivers to electric vehicles by 2025.
By encouraging its drivers to make the switch to electric, Uber will be avoiding paying hefty congestion charges on all of its hired drivers in the long term. This isn’t just about saving the planet, as much as I wish it were.
Although Uber seems to be mighty confident that it’ll be able to switch every single car over to electric alternatives within a few years, it will be a very difficult task. Each driver working under the Uber name is technically self-employed and will have to make the decision to switch on an independent basis. It’s not as simple as dishing out hundreds of electric cars to drivers and calling it a day.
Uber is looking to work with automakers, electrical vehicle charging companies, and car rental operators to make the transition as smooth as possible. It’s seeking additional government help to incentivise drivers to rent out electric vehicles instead of petrol-based ones too.
Who knows if Uber will successfully meet this ambitious quota, but it’ll be interesting to see things play out. Perhaps we’ll all be hopping into zero-emission car shares in five years. A drunken late night taxi home may not feel the same if you have to wait for the driver to charge up the battery, but it’s a small sacrifice worth making in the grand scheme of things.