Campaign to electrify Uber has ripple effect in ride-hailing business

January 13, 2021

Sometimes all it takes is a little push to get things moving. When Transport & Environment (T&E) and partner NGOs pressured Uber last year into pledging to electrify its fleet, a virtuous cycle was set in motion with Free Now just yesterday following Uber and Bolt’s lead. Ride-hailing revolutionised the taxi industry, but with it, increased the number of cars on European roads, leading to pollution and clogged up streets. The industry’s next revolution needs to focus on zero emissions. Recent positive announcements suggest the industry is moving in the right direction.

Free Now pledged to electrify rides as well as use offsets to become carbon neutral with at least 50% fully electric rides by 2025 and complete zero-emission rides by 2030. The German-based operator also said they will offset corporate and trips related emissions. T&E welcomes this announcement but cautions against offsets which are a futile climate tool. There is no point relying on paying for offsetting projects in other sectors while the company itself goes on emitting.

This comes in the wake of Transport & Environment’s (T&E) 11-month campaign that led Uber to announce it would electrify half of its rides in Europe by 2025. T&E calculated that Uber’s EV commitment in Europe would save approximately 500,000 tonnes of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to removing the CO2 emissions of 275,000 privately-owned cars from the roads. After their announcement, Uber launched a Clean Air Plan in France that is expected to raise €75 million by 2025 to support drivers across France to make the switch to EVs.

Bolt, the other member of the electrifying triumvirate, followed Uber’s steps in December last year. While not as ambitious as Uber or Free Now, the Estonian-based operator announced a zero emission transition in London and prioritised the reduction of their carbon footprint across Europe by helping drivers transition to zero and low emission vehicles. They have also introduced sustainable alternatives to cars in the form of e-scooters and e-bikes. 

Cities can take some credit for the ride-hailing industry’s electrification pledges, as local policies such as setting zero emissions zones have clearly shaped those plans. Where cities are really lagging behind, however, is in charging infrastructure which is still woefully inadequate.

But, pushed on by T&E and its partners, ride-hailing operators are moving ahead. This matters because electrifying ride-hailing vehicles and taxis would have considerable knock-on effects. With cities making slow progress on charging infrastructure, ride-hailing firms in need of reliable charging networks are putting money on the table, increasing the availability of low-cost, efficient charging infrastructure. In London, for example, Uber committed to invest £5 million to deploy charging infrastructure in less affluent parts of the city, where the highest number of drivers live. It will also stimulate demand for zero-emission vehicles and boost their uptake in urban fleets, a goal set by the European Commission in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy published in December 2020. What’s more, having more zero-emission vehicles in ride-hailing fleets saves millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide – much more than replacing private cars due to their mileage.

These announcements by Europe’s main ride-hailing players are the ripple effect of the campaign started by T&E and its partners back in 2018. The remaining high-mileage urban fleets – taxi companies and last-mile delivery companies – must step up and embrace electrification goals, too. Crucially, city decision makers must deploy the needed charging infrastructure and adapt local regulations to accelerate the uptake of zero-emission vehicles. We’ve got the ball rolling; it’s time to pick up speed.

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