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Electric vehicles in ridehailing applications: Insights from a Fall 2019 survey of Lyft and Uber drivers in Los Angeles

Deepak Rajagopal, Allison Yang

April 2020

Published in: UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability

The following description was adapted from the publication’s executive summary:

Electric vehicles (EVs) are considered a critical piece in a sustainable personal transportation infrastructure. Additionally, economic principles suggest that EVs that are driven more will payback faster and deliver greater life cycle cost savings and emissions reductions relative to EVs that are driven less. However, public policies to support EV adoption to date have not tried to target those individuals or applications that entail greater vehicle utilization, such as taxi and ride hailing vehicles, such as Lyft and Uber. Furthermore, since vehicle owners in such services tend to have lower incomes than the typical EV-owning household today, shifting policies to help such users adopt EVs would not only deliver greater fuel and cost savings, and environmental benefits, but also make EV and alternative vehicle policies more equitable. Last but not least, new research shows that electrification of ride hailing and taxi fleets could be achieved at little or no additional cost of service.

The objective of our research was to understand the potential of, as well as the barriers to, the adoption of EVs in ride hailing and related high-use applications. We describe the results and findings from a structured questionnaire-based survey of 195 Lyft and Uber drivers in Los Angeles, and an online survey of 396 individuals who report driving more than 60 miles per day but are not employed in the ride-hailing services sector.

We found that a substantial portion of ride hailing vehicles clock over 3x the miles of the typical household vehicle and possibly even 4x that of the average EV vehicle today. Electrifying these vehicles would therefore deliver 3x to 4x faster payback, environmental benefits and greater life cycle cost savings. Owners of these vehicles are lower income relative to the typical EV owner and so the upfront cost barrier looms larger. 

Our findings also show that ride hailing drivers care for the environment and want to contribute to reducing pollution from driving and be socially responsible citizens. However, they are concerned about running out of charge and having easy access to fast charging, don’t mind spending an hour to charge up provided their charging stations offer some amenities to rest up and refresh, and desire additional compensation for green miles among other suggestions they offer. Finally, they also seem to have incomplete and outdated information about EVs, tax incentives, and short-term rental leasing options.

Based on our work, we suggest the following additional measures to accelerate EV adoption among low-income and high-mileage vehicle owners.

  1. Ride hailing drivers would directly benefit from low interest financing to overcome credit constraints coupled with a subsidy per mile of vehicle travel.

  2. A complementary strategy is increasing financial and programmatic support for leasing EVs. Leasing could help overcome the upfront cost barrier, mitigate credit constraints, and help adopters benefit from learning-by-using akin to learning-by-doing.

  3. The barriers to charging faced by this group of vehicle owners are different to those faced by the average EV owner today. Most EV owners today tend to be homeowners and have access to a dedicated parking space with an electrical outlet. In contrast, the majority of ride hailing drivers reported living in rented and multi-unit dwellings without easy access to home charging. Furthermore, the nature of their vehicle use is such that they would need  robust access to charging away from home.

  4. Our surveys reveal a need for better information and outreach to educate ride hailing drivers to allay concerns arising from incomplete and outdated information on the relative costs and benefits of EVs, options to lease, and the various incentives and subsidies available to demonstrate how they can meet and manage their charging needs.

  5. Our work highlights the role of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) and private fleet operators in complementing the public investments and programs in each of the above areas with their own investments. They have an important role in helping with the procurement and financing of EVs.

This report provides some of the first data-driven insights on how lower-income households employed in ride hailing services can benefit economically and also deliver substantial environmental benefits rapidly and more cost-effectively, contributing to the success of California’s pollution reduction goals.

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