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Tesla Model Y Uber getting the blues at the Brisbane Airport. Photo courtesy of Adam Nelson.

Cars

Loneliness of the Long-Distance Tesla Uber Driver

Lack of charging infrastructure can give a Tesla Uber driver the blues.

By Adam Nelson, as told to David Waterworth

For over 6 years, I have provided transportation services for Uber, Didi, Ola, and my own business, while accepting various other rideshare bookings. Last year, I purchased a Tesla Model 3 Standard Range. I have completed 70,000 kilometers (43,500 miles) in 12 months, and every day drive between 250 to 500 km (155 to 310 miles) in a car that is limited to a range of 420 km (260 miles). If you want to earn more and go further than 420 km, you’re going to need to visit your closest DC fast charger for about 30–55 mins to recharge. Being a rideshare driver, having fast and reliable EV charging infrastructure available is very important. It means you can save time and plan more effectively — charging in the quiet times, accepting the rides that earn you the most money.

I live in the Brisbane CBD, and my apartment carpark isn’t fitted with electric chargers yet, so I am forced to travel into the Fortitude Valley Superchargers each day (2 km). I can do this either before or after a shift to prepare the car with 100% charge.

At other locations, I can’t always find an immediate charge because of the lack of available charging bays. Sometimes charging bays are being utilized either with Nissan LEAFs, plugin hybrids, or Mercedes-Benz EVs using the DC fast charger bays for longer periods of time. This can cause frustration and you miss the usual start times for rideshare drivers.

I have been experimenting with picking different types of jobs between local and intercity drop-offs. Typically on Uber you have 15 seconds before a job is passed on or declined. You have to decide quickly if it is worth taking short or long trips based on your overall battery charge status as well as weather factors that may reduce your range. In other words, just imagine a bunch of numbers and equations floating around your head and in 15 seconds you need to estimate the entire trip’s energy requirements without canceling on the passenger. The Tesla app and 3rd party apps like A Better Route Planner are used sometimes for estimating pickup and return round trips.

My experience with EV ridesharing over a 12 month period has mostly been without complaints. My most recent experience was during the past month. I tend to take the intercity runs on UberX, Comfort, and Premier Jobs. Reading the waybill for a $150–356 fare is fantastic. However, there is a downside risk to this because the car really needs at least a 80–100% charge to complete the round trip without having to find a charging stop. Intercity runs can be Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Caboolture, or Toowoomba. Gold Coast is ideal because chargers are everywhere. Sunshine Coast can be worse unless your customer is near the Maroochydore Supercharger.

A recent example will demonstrate my point. I was at Brisbane Airport on a Sunday at 10:30pm. I am sitting idle in the holding area for 20–50 mins without a job yet. Just by chance a trip comes up with notification for a long trip 45+ for $200. This means the fare is longer than 45 mins and the distance is longer than a short local hop from the airport to Brisbane city. I manage to umm and ah while gazing at the Tesla info screen for the battery status of 59%, and within 15 seconds I accepted the trip with the rider and just decided to live with the consequences later.

The customer was at the Brisbane Airport and I had to take him and his sons Lachlan and Tom to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. I spoke to the father and confirmed the drop-off location, then applied some forward planning by checking the Tesla navigation for an arrival time and battery estimate before proceeding. I found both Lachlan and Tom in the terminal and began the direct non-stop journey to Sunshine Coast in my Tesla with 59% of range in the battery.

This is when you start to have issues with range and trying to get back home. It’s winter in Australia and raining as well. You might lose 5% of range from cold batteries and traveling at normal highway speeds. These factors will reduce the estimated range. I arrive in Sunshine Coast with 6–9%, or <60 km of range, and then spend 5 mins looking at PlugShare and various charging stations nearby at 1:00 in the morning. If you’ve ever been to the Sunshine Coast and Noosa, you know you have limited options on where to charge. I ended up driving to Cooroy railway station and using a Queensland government electric super highway charger (50 kW) and spending 1 hour charging to full, 100%. The route was complicated by road closures at the time.

By now it was around 3am. Take note I accepted the ride at 10:30/11:00pm and have still not returned to Brisbane yet. I arrived home at 4:30am. It was a very time consuming and frustrating experience.

Now, you’re probably thinking I should have charged before leaving Brisbane. Your typical Tesla Uber driver doesn’t always have 100% battery and 420 km of range, especially when running a daily routine and a randomized schedule — unless you can juggle your scheduled day with recharges and clients using your own branded independent rideshare business. This is easy in comparison to playing the game of snakes and ladders on Uber or other rideshares.

The simple solution would be to place a bank of 75 kW chargers in convenient locations where rideshare drivers wait for fares. Typically, around Australian airports you will find car parks converted into holding areas for rideshare, taxi, limo, or other airport ground transportation operators. But they don’t have EV chargers at these car parks.

After purchasing my EV, I attempted to encourage the Brisbane Airport Corporation to include chargers in the Ground Transportation Operation (GTO) area for taxis, ridesharing, and limos (this is a rideshare geofencing tagged area where you can wait and receive trips — if a Tesla Uber driver travels outside this area, he won’t be allowed to pick up airport trips). Brisbane Airport Corporation offers 4 EV chargers at DFO, intended for staff initially. BAC said “we’re not interested” and pushed the issue aside instead of expanding this offering into a dedicated GTO area.

Even Teslas get the blues. Photo courtesy of Majella Waterworth.

My suggested solution is rows of DC fast chargers with a solar panel shade (carport) placed in the holding area. This would allow for rapid charging while cars are waiting in feeding and holding areas for work. Typically, cars can spend 15 minutes to 1 hour idle in rideshare areas, and that’s enough to recharge an EV close to 100% and resolve any range issues that rideshare, taxi and limo ground transportation operators would have.

Airports are missing a great opportunity for revenue and carbon credits. They could control and brand the chargers, or they could contract the service out. There would be many eager bidders — Tesla, Chargefox, Evie Network, and more. As more EVs enter the ground transportation space at airports, there will be pressure for solutions like this to be implemented for Tesla Uber drivers.

When they do this, I’ll be able to offer a more effective rideshare service for customers, and get to bed earlier!

Featured photo courtesy of Adam Nelson.

 
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Written By

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

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