The Sierra Club today noted that Uber is “committing “ to offer 100% electric vehicle rides by 2030 in the US, Canada, and Europe The 3.8 million member Sierra Club was commenting on Uber’s own announcement. Uber added that it would be offering 100% electric vehicle ride service to the rest of the world by 2040.
Uber is joining smaller rival Lyft, which in June pledged that every vehicle on its platform will be electric or powered by another zero-emission technology by 2030.
Of course, both Uber and Lyft will have to get to 2030, which will entail convincing riders and regulators that they are indeed indispensable. In the second quarter of 2020, when the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Uber lost $1.78 billion, Lyft $433.1 million.
Right now, according to the Sierra Club,, ride-hailing generates 70 percent more pollution than the trips it displaces in the United States. Studies have also shown that the availability of ride-sharing cuts down on public transit like buses and urban rail.
The Sierra Club took something of a victory lap in its announcement. “We applaud the tens of thousands of activists across the country whose work and tireless efforts led to Uber’s commitment to 100% electric vehicle rides by 2030,” said Rebekah Whilden, a campaign representative with Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign
The announcement by Uber (“Driving a Green Recovery”) talks of the company’s four major actions to tackle climate change. These include expanding the Uber Green program to make it easier for riders to choose to travel in hybrids or electric vehicles; helping drivers transition to electric vehicles, (with $800 million from Uber); investing in multi-modal networks (like partnering with some of those public transit agencies); and ‘being transparent and accountable.’
After referencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement, “Instead of going back to business as usual, Uber is taking this moment as an opportunity to reduce our environmental impact. It’s our responsibility as the largest mobility platform in the world to more aggressively tackle the challenge of climate change.”
The CEO added, “We want to do our part to build back better and drive a green recovery in our cities.”
Will it happen? “While Uber’s commitment states that it will work with drivers to make the transition more cost-effective and profitable for them, we know that we can’t let up the pressure to see this commitment through in a way that benefits drivers,” said the Sierra Club’s Whilden.
Nonetheless, with announcements such as the green initiative, are we finally seeing a kinder, gentler Uber, long known for its toxic culture? Uber and Lyft recently got a brief reprieve from leaving California. Attorney General Xavier Becerra sued the company for allegedly misclassifying drives as independent contractors when, according to controversial new state law AB5, they should be employees. But a court gave the companies a few more months to potentially change their business model, pending the outcome of the Yes On Prop 22 ballot initiative in November.
Although the story is usually portrayed as a battle between rapacious ‘gig economy’ companies and exploited drivers, a poll of 1000 drivers found that 71% wanted to remain independent contractors. Drivers have said they like the ability to set their own hours and the potential to make significant money, like this Lyft driver who reportedly made $4000 a week.
Of course, many investors believe that for a company like Uber to become profitable, it will need to dispense with drivers altogether. But while Uber’s autonomous program is still underway, the company is working to convince drivers, riders and regulator that it is indeed driving towards a green recovery.