If an electric car is used for ride-hailing services instead of a gas-powered car it could have three times the climate benefits of a personally owned electric car. That’s because these cars are really efficient, among other reasons UC Davis researchers recently found.
“If you think about every single day how much an Uber or Lyft driver is driving compared to an average driver, you're getting a lot more miles, which means you're displacing a lot more of the emissions,” said Alan Jenn, who led the study.
He analyzed California travel behavior and public charging data from Uber and Lyft between 2017 and late 2018 for a study recently published in the journal Nature Energy.
“Both in the United States and in California transportation is the number one source for carbon emissions,” Jenn said. “The only reason really that we are making this big transition to electric vehicles is for the purposes of benefiting the climate.”
The researchers also found that ride-hailing services use about 30% of the energy provided by public charging stations, even though they are a small portion of the traffic that comes through them. But that small amount, around a half percent, of electric cars used for ride-hailing makes a big dent in emissions. “That's the type of thing that we need to identify, which is the low hanging fruit that's gonna make a big impact,” he said.
That’s why Jenn says it’s imperative that charging infrastructure is ramped up across the state — there needs to be enough capacity for private cars and those using them for ride-hailing services. At the moment there are more than 18,000 charging stations in California.
Jenn notes the data for his study was collected pre-pandemic when more people were hailing rides, but says it doesn’t negate that making more of the cars used for ride-hailing electric would decrease emissions. In April Uber announced COVID-19 had dropped business globally by around 80%.
Even though Jenn says the trend will likely continue, he’s excited about what the future holds.
“We'll see what happens in the next couple of years,” he said. “Everything is totally thrown into chaos with the pandemic, but directionally I think that we're still sort of on the right track.”
Jenn says ride-hailing services are converting more of their fleets to electric. In June, Lyft announced a goal of going all electric by 2030.
“Success breeds success, and if we do this right, it creates a path for others,” said John Zimmer, co-founder and president of Lyft in a release. “If other rideshare and delivery companies, automakers and rental car companies make this shift, it can be the catalyst for transforming transportation as a whole."
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