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More Uber drivers are going electric — and there's a surprising 'knock-on effect' the company thinks EV riders will experience

"You do the math, you get to a really big number."

"You do the math, you get to a really big number.”

Photo Credit: iStock

For millions of people, their first exposure to an electric vehicle might be in an Uber. 

That's because Uber is on a mission to become a "fully green" platform by 2030 in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and by 2040 around the world. 

And as more of its drivers go electric, the company says that almost 40% of riders in an Uber Green or "Comfort Electric" are experiencing an EV for the first time. 

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"The scale of Uber gives you a huge opportunity to introduce people to this technology," Chris Hook, Uber's global sustainability lead, told Cody Simms on the My Climate Journey podcast. "The average EV drivers are taking 150 people a month or something. You do the math, you get to a really big number."

Hook said they even had to run a campaign in the U.S. to show how to open Tesla's unique doors. "It's illustrative of the fact that this is us trying to push this into the mainstream," he said. "I would hope that there's a bunch of people who are like, 'Oh yeah, these cars are nice, and maybe actually when I switch my car, I'll get one of these.' That, I think, is a really positive knock-on effect of the work."

Uber doesn't own its drivers' vehicles — but the biggest source of pollution comes from the cars its drivers use. So Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is determined to make it a no-brainer for drivers to go electric.

"By 2030, every single driver on the platform will have an EV because it will be crazy for them not to," he told NBC's Savannah Sellers at the Aspen Ideas Festival. "We need to make the decision obvious and easy and crazy." 

They'll do that by addressing some of their drivers' biggest concerns about EVs: cost, charging, and return on investment. 

"We're paying drivers more to drive an electric vehicle," said Khosrowshahi. "Drivers get one dollar more per trip that they take in an EV, and that allows them to make more money. We've got to give them that incentive because right now, EVs cost too much." 

They're also offering reduced-cost leasing options on EVs to help drivers "try before they buy," in partnership with Tesla and Ford. An EV hub helps drivers compare the cost of ownership of an internal combustion engine versus an EV. And an app makes charging easier and more affordable by showing drivers where and when to charge for the lowest rates.

The cherry on top? Khosrowshahi says "riders tip more for drivers who are in EVs." 

Currently, Uber says they have about 60,000 EVs operating in any given month. In North America, about 5% of, or 1 in 20, miles are driven in an electric car. Zooming in on California, that number goes up to 10%, and in London, it's almost 20% of rides, or 1 in 5. That's three times as big as last year. 

"The momentum is there for us," Hook said. 

For riders, Uber offers an "Uber Green" or "Comfort Electric" option when booking a car in many cities — and this option is typically on par or less expensive than the alternatives. It's also become popular with businesses that can track their employee's emissions reductions.

"If you charge a premium for green, it's not going to work," Khosrowshahi said. "Even though riders want to do the right thing, if they have to pay more, a much smaller segment of riders start taking green options.

"It's all about making it unbelievably easy for the rider to choose to do their little bit to save the environment and for the drivers to go green as well."

Riders will also have access to an emissions hub where they can see how much pollution they're saving by choosing an electric car and letting them compete with their friends around making green choices. 

For the first time, Uber's also adding Uber Eats to its sustainability plan. That means encouraging Uber Eats' drivers to go electric and reducing the use of single-use plastic

To do that, Uber is helping restaurants in its network to source sustainable packaging, testing reusable packaging options, and enabling consumers to select more sustainable options, like skipping plastic cutlery or sauces. 

The company's theory? Again, it's about incentives. "If we give eaters the choice to filter out non-sustainable packaging, small and medium businesses will get more business," said Khosrowshahi, and ultimately, they'll make more money. 

Eleven million tons of plastic enters the oceans, and consumer takeout is among the largest share of that waste. 

"We're giving restaurants an incentive to be green not just because it's the right thing to do, but because it can actually help business as well," Khosrowshahi said.

By 2030, Uber wants 100% of Uber Eats restaurant merchants to transition to reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging options.

"We have a big footprint in the climate space, and we've got to own that and think about how to move it forward," said Hook. "There's an exciting opportunity to combine that responsibility with the innovation that I think we've always been famous for and to try and embrace being at the forefront."

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