Uber Wants More of Its Drivers to Use Electric Cars

It may even pay some drivers to go electric.

General Motors

Uber is launching a pilot program in seven cities with the goal of getting more drivers to use electric cars. The program expands on previous pilots conducted in Portland, Oregon and Pittsburgh. It will help Uber achieve a goal of giving 5 million rides in electric cars during the next year.

The program is called the EV Champions Initiative and operates in seven cities: Montreal, Seattle, and Austin, Texas, as well as four cities in California; Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Diego. Uber said it designed the program in part based on feedback from hundreds of drivers it interviewed throughout the past year. Drives listed losing fare-earning time to charging, lack of charging stations in urban areas, and lack of affordable long-range electric cars as their main concerns, Uber said.

The ride-hailing company won't build charging stations, but it will provide "direct monetary incentives" to electric-car drivers in certain cities. Uber said it will also work to educate drivers on what government incentives are available for electric cars in their areas.

Uber also added a 30-minute trip notification to its app so that drivers know a longer trip may be in store before picking up a passenger. This is meant to help quell range anxiety by allowing drivers to plan ahead. Quebec drivers also get a free membership in Association des véhicules électriques du Québec, a local electric-car advocacy group that also provides reduced insurance premiums to members.

Uber itself has joined the electric-car advocacy group Veloz, and plans to push for more charging infrastructure to support its drivers. The company will also provide in-app notifications to riders when they are matched with an electric-car driver. It's a small change, but Uber hopes it will increase awareness of electric cars.

As the number of ride-hailing vehicles on city streets increases, keeping emissions in check should become a major concern for companies like Uber. Rival Lyft wants to give 1 billion rides per year in autonomous technology-equipped electric cars by 2025. Uber, which has a much larger fleet than Lyft, also plans to replace its human drivers with autonomous technology. But going electric would significantly reduce ride-hailing's carbon footprint.