Rideshare as a mode of transportation has revolutionized the art of getting around for most of the world, and its impact is huge. There are fewer impaired drivers on the road, families can travel to events without stressing over scarce parking spots, and grocery shopping is less cumbersome for people who don’t own a car.
Yes, for all these reasons and more, rideshare is wonderful… but it also means more cars are out there spewing emissions into the air.
So, when we consider the health of our environment, the introduction of rideshare as a common mode of transportation has had a devastating effect. According to a September 8, 2020 press release by the Sierra Club, rideshare has led to as much as a 70 percent increase in emissions over levels that were present before Uber, Lyft, and other companies began operations.
This is certainly not something the companies, or we drivers, would feel comfortable congratulating ourselves about.
To help alleviate this growing problem, both Uber and Lyft have committed to reaching zero emissions by 2030, through transitioning their respective fleets over to electric vehicles (EVs). Lyft made its pledge on June 17, and Uber seconded the commitment on September 8.
The goal of reaching zero emissions by 2030 is a formidable one. It inspires us to ask many questions, some of which we will consider in this article:
- What are the new Uber and Lyft programs?
- Why are the companies doing this?
- How do these programs benefit drivers and passengers?
- What cars are eligible for the green initiatives?
- What about the vehicles drivers have now?
What are the new Uber and Lyft programs?
Both Uber and Lyft have stated that the decision to “go green” emerged from the COVID-19 crisis. Lyft says it sees the move as a way to do something proactive, rather than remain stalled in hand-wringing mode during the shutdowns. Uber’s announcement paints the picture of how much cleaner the air became while people’s movement was restricted, and professes its desire to help keep it that way.
Whatever the motivations, both companies have made this pledge to achieve zero emissions by 2030. Here is what each proposes to do.
Climate change seems to be the primary motivation behind this program, but the company sees other benefits arising from it as well.
Lyft’s partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund involves investing in clean energy, not only to reduce pollution, but also create new jobs. The hope was, and is, that Lyft’s initiative would set a standard for other tech and transportation leaders.
The transition Lyft has in mind is to shift to 100 percent all-electric or other zero-emission engines.
Not only will this involve rideshare drivers’ cars (and possibly, by then, autonomous vehicles), rental cars for drivers and riders will also be zero emission. Already, Lyft has instituted “Green Mode” in certain cities, which allows customers to request rides from drivers whose cars have a smaller carbon footprint.
For drivers, benefits are primarily the lower fuel and maintenance costs of EVs. Lyft admits that the cost of EVs is high, but expresses hope that the cost of batteries, and vehicles, will come down over time, as has been the case over the last ten years.
Lyft doesn’t totally put the onus on drivers for completing this goal. The company hopes to work with policymakers and business partners to drive down the cost of EVs, lobby for more incentives and EV infrastructure (namely, charging stations), and make it easy and economical for drivers to make the shift. The Environmental Defense Fund will be instrumental in assisting Lyft in this effort. The group already partners with businesses to help them embrace climate-friendly technologies that not only benefit the planet, but also add to their bottom lines.
In cities where the Express Drive car rental service is in operation, Lyft notes that drivers with EVs save an average of $50 to $70 per week in fuel costs. In Colorado, for example, the company lobbied for, and acquired, state tax incentives, and it seems their plan envisions further accommodations and subsidies along these lines.
Uber’s program, known as “Uber Green,” represents its commitment to a fully zero-carbon fleet by 2030 in the US and Canada, and worldwide by 2040. The company has committed to invest $800 million over the next five years to help drivers transition to electric vehicles by 2025. Uber will offer vehicle purchase assistance, discount rates to EV drivers through deals with charging networks, and higher per-trip premiums for drivers who operate green and electric vehicles.
In a September 7, 2020 conference call with a Forbes reporter, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said: “As our communities recover from COVID-19, we can rebuild them for people, not cars, we can add more green spaces and fewer parking spaces.”
Through its partnership with the World Resources Institute, Uber hopes to facilitate programs that are friendlier to the urban environment. This endeavor could also lead to public-private partnerships that benefit Uber and the cities in which it operates. Scooters and bicycles might play more major roles than they currently do in high-density areas.
General Motors is also working with Uber, and will extend employee discount pricing to Uber drivers on a popular EV, the 2020 Chevrolet Bolt. GM does this frequently as an incentive for people to buy their vehicles, but the relationship with Uber could become quite valuable to drivers in the future. Already, in Los Angeles and Denver, Uber Diamond Drivers can get discounted financing through GM Financial to go along with the corporate pricing offer.
To incentivize drivers to make the transition to a smaller carbon footprint, Uber will offer an additional 50 cents per ride for a “green car” (which includes hybrids), and an additional one dollar per ride for drivers with EVs.
Customers will be enticed to request Uber Green rides with triple the number of award points for each ride they request. Obviously, the success of the program will rest with how many green and/or electric cars are available. But customers do seem to be more conscious of the need for rideshare to reduce its carbon footprint. Even passengers who haven’t thought about that are likely to hear more about it soon.
Why are the companies doing this?
In their announcements about the new initiatives, Uber and Lyft have cited the COVID-19 crisis along with their growing environmental concerns. Yet it is also likely that other motivations come into play. Increasingly, both companies have come under scrutiny for their respective roles in the growing emissions problem.
The statistic cited by the Sierra Club (mentioned earlier) is indeed sobering, as the group says in its September 8 press release: “Right now, ride-hailing generates 70 percent more pollution than the trips it displaces in the United States.” Also, thanks to the pandemic, consider how many people have stopped using public transportation and are now rideshare passengers.
Another consideration: At the end of July, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) put forth a proposal requiring that 60 percent of the miles traveled by ride-hail customers be in electric vehicles by 2030.
Both Lyft and Uber have proposed more ambitious goals, of course, but could CARB’s recent actions be part of their motivation? Remember, Uber and Lyft are embroiled in a dispute with the State of California over employee classification. Perhaps getting on the good side of CARB could help avoid further pressure from state authorities.
After all, when an agency like CARB begins to look at the ride-hail business, they inevitably make some startling discoveries … like the fact that each rideshare trip puts off 50 percent more emissions than the average trip, because the driver must travel between drop-off and pick-up points.
It’s also worth noting that California’s regulations, once they are enacted, will also apply to autonomous vehicles. Lyft’s director of sustainability calls for government subsidies to assist the company in achieving its goals, and this could help Lyft finance the development of AVs as well as EVs.
Our review of the programs offered by Uber and Lyft reveals their intention to become more responsible toward the environment. From subsidies for charging stations to tax credits for adding EVs to their fleets, the companies will seek to benefit from partnering with the government and public utilities. It would behoove companies and drivers to make charging their EVs less expensive, and if the government wants to reduce emissions, this would be one way for them to help accomplish it.
How do these programs benefit drivers and passengers?
The first question drivers are probably thinking is, “What’s in it for us?” Well … the most noble reason for going along with the green initiatives of both companies is, of course, the health of our planet. We suspect, however, you might still be wondering how this will make you more money.
For Lyft, the compensation for drivers (along with a clear conscience) is a reduced fuel bill. For Uber, hybrid cars will receive 50 cents extra per ride; electric cars will receive that 50 cents plus another dollar, for a total of $1.50 per ride.
Passengers will also benefit from doing good things for the environment. Lyft doesn’t offer any particular option outside of that, but Uber is giving them reminders of why they should feel good, and then also tripling their rewards points. These factors may change as the programs mature and the passengers respond to changing conditions.
What cars are eligible for the green initiatives?
In the beginning, hybrids as well as fully electric vehicles will be eligible for both Uber’s and Lyft’s programs. No specific vehicle list is available yet, but this Forbes article about the “12 ‘Greenest’ Cars for 2020” will give you some ideas.
No one can say whether EVs will be the best, or maybe the only, alternative to the internal combustion, gasoline-fueled engine by 2030. More cars will likely be propelled by natural gas, and there may also be vehicles that run with other, yet-to-be-imagined technologies by then.
What about the vehicles drivers have now?
If you’re still driving a fully gasoline-powered vehicle, you’re still fine for now. If you don’t mind missing out on the extra 50 cents or $1.50 premium you’d get from Uber for driving a hybrid or an EV, your car will still be accepted by the rideshare platforms through 2025.
But if you’re just starting out, and you haven’t yet chosen a vehicle to use for rideshare driving, you may want to think about going green. If you hold on a little while longer, or if you’re already driving and want to make the switch to a new EV, you can wait for Uber’s program with GM to kick in. This will give you a financial break to help ease the sticker shock that comes with most EVs.
The bottom line
Knowing what we do about emissions and the effects of pollution on the environment, it’s hard to justify driving vehicles that belch out massive quantities of high-carbon exhaust for much longer. These programs may help all of us consider the plus side of owning a vehicle that is more environmentally friendly. If you can’t buy a new car right away, at least start to think about making your next vehicle more compatible with these growing trends toward zero emissions.
If you’re still up in the air on this issue, take a serious look at how well your current vehicle performs, and then you can make a sound decision based on facts.
How can you track your earnings and keep account of your mileage? Use Gridwise on every shift. Our app will take the data from your rideshare and delivery gigs, and then create reports that you can use to evaluate your earnings and mileage information. Don’t wait—download the app now.
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