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Published on July 9th, 2020 | by Zachary Shahan

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Lyft or Uber Electric Car Cuts 3× More Pollution than Your Electric Car

July 9th, 2020 by  


A study published yesterday by researchers at the University of California, Davis, reminds us all why Lyft and Uber drivers should electrify faster than anyone, and why a Tesla app-based taxi service — robotaxis or not — would be so helpful.

I’ll come back to the latter in a moment, but let’s first look at the study, just published in the scientific journal Nature Energy.

There are two main reasons the researchers found Lyft and Uber electric car drivers cut so much pollution, the first of which is well known, but the second of which is seldom considered.

Firstly, Lyft/Uber/taxi drivers drive a lot. The more a person drives, the more potential they have for cutting pollution. More carbon emissions go into producing an electric car due to the large number of batteries in them, but that is relatively quickly made up for in operation of the much more efficient car as the driver skips the gas station and charges from electricity the wall (or the ground). The more quickly you rack up the miles you would have driven on gasoline while driving on electricity instead, the more quickly you avoid pollution you would have produced otherwise. Hence Lyft and Uber EV drivers cutting more pollution than you (assuming you aren’t a Lyft or Uber driver, or someone who drives more than them) and me.

Secondly, and perhaps much more interestingly to those of us who got bored reading the above paragraph, the study found that another reason Lyft and Uber drivers who switch to electric cars cut more pollution than the rest of us is because they charge during the day.

What?

Well, solar energy is abundant during the day, and as solar energy production rises, at some point there’s more produced midday than the grid needs. At that point, you either lose the excess energy or have to store it in batteries. Lyft and Uber drivers are essentially soaking up that excess energy and storing it in their cars until they drive again.

This is especially useful in California, which has by far the most solar power installed in the United States and also has by far the most electric cars.

Study Details

The study did indeed focus on California. “The study drew from Uber and Lyft data on travel behavior and public charging use in California between early 2017 through late 2018, a time of rapid growth for ride-hailing services.”

Aside from being convenient for University of California researchers, that is where many Lyft and Uber miles are racked up and especially where many electric Lyft and Uber miles are racked up. And they sure did rack up the miles!

Lead author Alan Jenn, a professional researcher at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, “was also surprised to find that, while ride-hailing services are a tiny fraction of traffic, they used more than 30 percent of the energy provided by public charging stations — about 60 times more public energy than that used by privately owned vehicles.”

Interestingly, the study also found that electric vehicles were not hobbled by their range, a good sign considering the timeframe and the fact that EV range has been growing strongly year after year as battery technology improves, economies of scale lower battery prices, and automakers get better at designing electric cars.

“There have been some concerns about the ability of ride-hailing electric vehicles to provide the same level of service as gas-powered vehicles, due to more limited range and the time needed to charge,” the University of California, Davis, press team writes. “The study’s analysis showed those concerns are overstated, noting it found no statistical difference between the two technologies for ride-hailing companies.”

Lyft Going 100% Electric, & Number Fun

There were 2 million Lyft drivers as of Q3 2019. (I would assume the numbers are significantly lower now.) I’m finding a figure of around 3.9 million Uber drivers. DiDi, which just launched a robotaxi trial in Shanghai, has approximately 21 million drivers (for now).

To get more useful numbers, you’d want to know how many of these drivers are full-time versus part-time drivers, but this is just a broad exercise in number fun and fortune telling, so we can skip that for now.

If you assumed only a modest increase to 40 million Lyft, Uber, and DiDi drivers by 2025, and you assumed 50% of them had switched to electric cars (I think a safe assumptions given the operational savings available and the improving technology), that would be 20 million electric car drivers shuttling people around without directly producing any emissions, as opposed to 20 million gas or diesel cars polluting our streets.

Let’s hope Lyft’s 100% electric push inspired its drivers and those of other networks to look into the potential savings from driving electric and gets them to switch sooner.

Of course, then there are also conventional taxi drivers, delivery vehicles, and the cars of bloggers who stay at home most of the day long-distance shuttles.

Tesla Taxi

Robotaxi capability or not, I think the Tesla software update I’m most eager for is one that adds a Tesla taxi/rideshare function to the Tesla app and touchscreen. I’m not sure how much I would use it for extra income, but I am sure I would use it, and I currently am not an Uber or Lyft driver. I assume a high number of Tesla drivers who don’t drive for Uber or Lyft would also do occasional (or more frequent) trips via the new app feature.

Also, while it would be yet another app to add to your phone if you don’t have a Tesla, how many people would happily add the Tesla app and start using it instead of another option?

Tesla vehicles lead the industry in range, and even if you have the lowly Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+) like me, you can very easily drive 200 or 400 (with one Supercharge) miles a day. Assuming a 5-day and 50-week work life, that’s 50,000–100,000 miles a year. Say you add just 20,000 Tesla drivers to the on-demand taxi (sometimes referred to as ridesharing) pool. That’s 1 billion to 2 billion miles a year driven on electricity instead of gasoline or diesel.

The potential for cutting pollution — from both new part-time drivers and new full-time drivers — is enormous. 
 
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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort on Tesla or any other company.



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