In September 2020, after a campaign by T&E and other green NGOs, Uber announced half of its rides across seven European capitals (Amsterdam, Berlin, Brussels, Lisbon, London, Madrid and Paris) would be emissions-free by 2025. Ahead of COP, a number of major companies came out with similar voluntary commitments, many around electric cars, so it is important to ask how serious these are. More than a year since Uber’s promise, how well has the company done?
Uber will need to be much more ambitious if it wants to deliver on its romise of electrifying half its rides in Europe across seven cities. The current electrification levels are still very low —with a share of kilometers driven on all-electric mode below 5%— and Uber only has slightly over three years left to reach 50%. Moreover, Uber’s target is an aggregated percentage across seven cities, which means that if London and Amsterdam both reach 100%, Brussels and Berlin can stay at 0%.
Averaged numbers indeed mask huge differences in progress in individual cities. When looking at city level data, there is a substantial gap between the Uber targets to decarbonize and the observed rates of electric vehicle uptake, particularly in cities like Brussels, Madrid, or Berlin —where Uber has hardly made any progress. Uber data shows that Lisbon (9%), Amsterdam (6%), and London (6%) currently have the highest rates of electric rides on the Uber platform. But Paris (1%), Berlin (0.55%), Madrid (0.15%)and Brussels (0.01%) are lagging behind, with near zero rates. How can this be explained?
Uber seems to have done well where they already had to —in London or Amsterdam— because city authorities require company operations to go electric (alongside a successful charging roll-out). Where no regulatory push yet exists —e.g. in Brussels or Berlin— little progress happened.
This goes beyond the availability of sufficient charging for drivers. A deeper look at the regulatory framework in the 7 cities shows how the role of the local governments can influence the speed of the zero emissions transition in ride-hailing, and indicates a need for mandates (or requirements) to ensure the steady uptake of electric vehicles in urban high-mileage fleets. If cities don’t set ambitious and clear targets for urban fleets to achieve zero emissions, combined with an appropriate deployment of charging infrastructure, Uber —and other urban high-mileage PHV and taxi fleets— will have little incentive to move away from operating polluting vehicles.
Cities must hence be much bolder, and should introduce new legislative frameworks to require taxi, private hire, car sharing, and ride-hailing services in urban areas to go to zero emissions: all high-mileage fleets operating in urban areas have to be made of zero-emission vehicles from 2025 on, with no exemptions made based on license type. Moreover, cities as well as governments must improve charging infrastructure with a coherent strategy, providing charging at the request of a driver —or group of drivers— in a way that widespread near-home, slow and affordable charging can be guaranteed, in combination with city fast-charging hubs.
Above all, this is a lesson for all delegates at this week’s COP conference to take note of: industry commitments on their own are not enough, they require both regulatory push and supportive policies (e.g. charging) to happen on time and within the ambition required by the Paris Accord. With all the frenzy around EV days around, there is nothing better to make it happen than to cement the zero emissions goal for cars, vans, trucks and buses into the law no later than 2035 —alongside a clear trajectory in the 2020s to scale up effectively.