The ride-hailing service has chosen to be EV-exclusive from the next decade, but is it too soon to make that call?
Uber has been in the news for many controversial reasons over the years, but we really don't want to dwell on that too much. The company has tried to introduce autonomous ride-sharing, and although that utopian dream of a world where you can catch a ride in a driverless vehicle is still some way off for all Americans, what about all-electric ride-sharing? Well, Uber's latest decision on EVs is sure to be controversial too.
In a recent interview with CBS News, Uber Technologies Inc. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi revealed that his company intends for all of its ride-sharing vehicles that operate in North America and Europe to be pure electric vehicles by 2030. Every. Single. One.
In a bid to get there as quickly as possible, Uber is now expanding its Comfort Electric service. Uber can change its mind depending on how legislation and infrastructure change, so shouldn't it have waited before making this commitment?
If you haven't heard of Comfort Electric, this is the option to request that your ride arrives as an EV. It was launched in May in the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and Dubai, and the eligible cars were limited to premium EVs like Teslas, Polestars, and the Ford Mustang Mach-E. Except for the last city, there's a clear pattern - California. After all, that's where Teslas and the like are especially trendy, and that's where you're most likely to find a Supercharger. There are currently around 300 stations in California, which translates to at least 20% of the 1,500-odd Superchargers in the country. You'll see why this is important shortly.
Back to Comfort Electric. It's basically Uber's existing Comfort service where you get more space for your legs and a few other minor amenities - but not enough to make it as fancy as the Uber Black Mercs and Cadillacs - with the added amusement of an EV turning up.
In July, the American Comfort Electric service expanded to Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Denver, Austin, Philadelphia, and Baltimore and is now expanding further to a total of 25 cities (listed at the end of this article) in preparation for a wholesale change: Uber expects all of its drivers to switch to EVs by 2030.
Not every Uber driver in California, and not even every Uber driver in America - which seems damn near impossible in seven years plus some change, but every driver in Europe too. I get the sentiment - and based on the Environmental Protection Agency's findings that transportation is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions - I see why Uber is making the decision. But it just doesn't seem feasible.
There's still likely to be a huge infrastructure problem by that time if all our past climate goals are anything to go by, and that's worrying. Charging speed issues should have been easily solved by then, if even one recent study is anything to go by, but we need the chargers in the first place. If you're not in wealthy California where all those Tesla Superchargers are, good luck. And now Tesla has asked its own fans to vote on where to put more Superchargers. Pretty sure there aren't too many people on a farm in Ohio or taking in Wyoming countryside views who are desperate for more Superchargers near their homes, but the Teslarati in Cali sure is.
In Europe, where the transition to clean energy generation is gaining momentum and chargers are popping up in every major city all the time, it may be possible, but here? These Comfort Electric trips are also notably more expensive than regular, gas-powered Comfort trips, which may deter some clients until pricing reaches or falls below parity. So how will Uber help speed up that process?
CBS senior national and environmental correspondent Ben Tracy asked Khosrowshahi if a driver in a gas-powered vehicle would be allowed on Uber's platform, to which the CEO replied, "No, if we're doing our job, we're gonna be all-electric."
What exactly is the job, then? In 2018, Uber started paying a dollar extra per ride completed in an electrified vehicle, including hybrids. The company is continuing that practice now with a limit of $4,000 per year and the obvious amendment to the deal that now states you must get behind the wheel of an all-electric car. But how in the blazes is one supposed to get into a battery electric vehicle when there aren't many cheap ones?
Well, to start with, you could rent a Tesla Model 3 or some other amazement-inspiring EV from rental agency Hertz, and many drivers are reporting that they not only save on gas but also earn far more money. In addition, Uber will subsidize charging costs, which will come from the $800 million investment it announced in 2020. If you save the $4,000 annual bonus from completed electric rides, plus the money you save on gas, plus the extra tips you get, when 2030 arrives, buying something like a brand new, $30,000 Chevrolet Equinox to use as your new work chariot sounds entirely achievable.
But again, it's not easy in a state or region where there aren't many chargers. Sure, a full battery should last a good few hundred miles, but you'll probably still need a charger at some point in a long shift. Hopefully, that won't be the only cheap-ish EV, and hopefully, cars will charge must faster in seven years (of course they will), and hopefully, the infrastructure will be there, but while this all looks great for Uber at face value and will be fully embraced by California (which will ban the sale of new combustion engine cars from 2035), what I've failed to mention is this: remember the EPA's report linked earlier in this article? Well, it has some bad stats for EV fans too.
While transportation accounted for 27% of 2020's greenhouse gas emissions and was the largest contributor by economic sector, electric power generation took second place on the podium, with a full quarter of total US greenhouse gas emissions.
That 25% is going to get far bigger, and fast, unless we utilize more sustainable ways of generating and storing energy, and soon. Perhaps hydrogen could work. But what if governments of the world just shift the goalposts once again, and in the meantime, we develop better combustion engines? Thanks to supercar manufacturers, there's hope that these will be cleaner and more efficient than EVs, but who knows where legislation will take us? To EVs and old power stations, to EVs and clean electricity generation, or to clean, sustainable biofuels and synthetic fuels that reduce carbon emissions? All I'm saying, Uber, is that this may be a trip that can wait until everyone knows where we're going.
Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Connecticut, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New Jersey, NYC suburbs, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Saint Louis, Vancouver (Canada), and Washington, D.C. are the cities in which Comfort Electric is now available.