Working as an Uber or Lyft (or both) driver in an EV can be challenging. How do I know? I did it for about 50,000 miles in a 2018 Nissan LEAF. Trying to do that in an EV that lacks liquid cooling in a hot city like Phoenix didn’t turn out to be a great idea, but talking to fellow drivers, it was pretty clear that many of the other challenges still applied, even in a Tesla.
One of the biggest challenges was range. Ideally, you want to keep yourself available for rides as much as possible to keep making money, but that requires balancing the need to charge with the need to be available. What makes that even more challenging is that you don’t get to decide what rides you’re offered, because rideshare companies can’t predict future customer needs. A customer might need to only go a few blocks, or they might need a very long ride between cities, or anything in between.
And, really, it’s the long rides you hope to get whenever you can. Getting a 50-mile ride means getting paid continuously for time and miles, but getting 50 1-mile rides means you are not getting paid for all the time between rides, limiting your potential for income during the course of a day. So, you don’t want to get your battery too low doing a bunch of short rides and then miss out on the big fish that really pushes the day’s income forward.
One way to avoid that is to work in a city with a bunch of DC fast charging stations. That way, you can keep running and topping off between rides to stay prepared for the big fish to bite. But drivers don’t usually choose what city they work in, because Ubering is often a side job or something people do between jobs. If nothing else, people just aren’t going to uproot to a city with better charging for a relatively low-paying job.
So, the challenge is really more of how to fit the EV you own or lease/rent, the city you’re working in, and the rideshare job all together to maximize profits. That’s no small challenge!
How I Coped With It
One tool the rideshare apps had when I did it was a “destination mode.” It let you choose a point you’d prefer to get rides towards, essentially filtering out rides that went in the wrong direction. I’d start the day at home with a full charge (when the apartment’s charging station was working), willing to go in any direction, and then start setting the destination back toward the parts of town with a charger. When the charge got too low, I’d leave the app and head to a charger near the airport. Once at 80%, I’d try for a long ride.
But one of the big problems with this method is that I’d still occasionally hook a big fish I couldn’t reel in. Sometimes, there’d be a really good ride out of the airport that the car didn’t have enough range for, and refusing the ride could get you kicked out of the virtual queue for passengers. Other times, there’d just be a random long ride that unexpectedly came up that would have been nice, but that I didn’t have enough range for. Those times were always a bummer.
Uber Has A New Tool For Tesla Drivers That Could Help With This
The @Uber app can now access your @Tesla account, with your permission, to give you rides according to your car’s real time battery range. ⚡️🔋 pic.twitter.com/cCCoQ4iEaH
— Sofiaan Fraval (@Sofiaan) May 25, 2023
I haven’t driven for Uber in years, but I found a Tweet with a very interesting screenshot. Apparently, you can now connect the Uber app to the Tesla app to let the app be aware of your vehicle’s state of charge. I couldn’t check for myself to see what the details under the asterisk were, but it appears to filter out rides that the app figures you can’t complete on your current charge.
How This Could Be Helpful
The obvious upside to this feature is that it would only give you rides that you can do. Turning down rides used to eventually incur you a penalty if you did it enough times, so not getting offered clearly impossible rides is advantageous. You obviously wouldn’t want to do this with a low charge, because you wouldn’t get any rides. But, at a higher state of charge, drivers will get rides they can actually do without needing to worry about rejecting any.
How This Still Doesn’t Help
While this automatic filter helps, there are still problems that can crop up with such a limited implementation.
The biggest problem is that the Uber app is probably not aware of the charging network. If you have 100 miles of range and the app gives you a 99-mile ride away from all charging opportunities, you’d finish the ride up the creek without a paddle. [Editor’s note: My impression is that, by connecting to the Tesla app, it will also use the built-in navigation, which finds and adds Supercharging automatically as needed.] There’s also the possibility of longer rides that rely on charging networks, such as those between cities. While we might assume that a passenger would prefer a gas car for a long ride, services like Uber are likely to not have that option available in the future, so they’ll need to factor that in at some point.
Really, this points toward a much wider problem: the underlying assumptions that differ as the world switches from gas to electric. To get from here to there, we have to stop trying to find ways to wire around the differences and build the whole system around EV assumptions. It wouldn’t be fair to say that Uber isn’t doing that. It’s making EVs more readily available to drivers, helping with education, and otherwise moving toward the goal of making Uber an electric service.
An Even Bigger Question
It’s hard at this point to not think more widely about the future of ridesharing services. Tesla fans will say that the whole system is going to end up in Tesla’s hands, with an FSD-based Tesla Network dominating the market. But that doesn’t mean that services like Uber and Lyft won’t try to continue operating using alternative self-driving systems, or that companies like Waymo, Cruise, or Ford’s new autonomy division won’t still be competitors.
There are also important questions about the future of the car itself. Will we even want to order an autonomous vehicle to take us on long trips if we could just as easily take better transit options that could emerge and potentially be cheaper? Will AI technology make speed of transport less urgent?
Obviously, we can’t answer every question about the future of transportation here, but these are all questions worth thinking about before worrying about integrating EVs into a long-term plan.
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