Uber EV trial identifies barriers to electric private hire fleets

A three-month trial conducted by Uber and the Energy Saving Trust (EST) has identified the issues holding back further penetration of electric vehicles into the capital’s fleet of private hire vehicles. The EST said these issues could be summed up as “charging, charging, charging”.

More than 35,000 riders took trips in a fully electric car in London during the trial, with each driver saving more than half a metric tonne of NOx and 22 metric tonnes of CO2 during the course of the trial compared to a hybrid car. For 70% of participating drivers the trial was their first experience of driving a fully electric vehicle and 85% were pleased to have taken part.

However, the report found:

  • Drivers taking part in the trial were hampered by the severe lack of rapid chargers in central London – there are only three publicly available in the centre of London;
  • Even with chargers closer to their homes, many drivers reported a lack of reliable availability with some even having to get up in the middle of the night to use the charger when it was unoccupied;
  • Many drivers also struggled to make the economics of an electric private hire vehicle work – with the money saved from running their car on electricity rather than fuel not matching the amount of time lost struggling to find a suitable charging point.

Jo Bertram, regional general manager of Uber in the UK, said: “Our vision is for mass adoption of fully electric cars as private hire vehicles but there are some really big challenges we need to overcome. Charging cars can be costly for drivers and there’s a serious lack of rapid charging points in central London. We hope the Mayor’s forthcoming transport strategy will lead to more chargers which private hire drivers can use. In the meantime we’re determined to make progress with a further 100 Nissan Leafs and plans for a network of chargers for drivers who use Uber.”

Drivers using the Uber app will be able to hire one of the Nissan Leafs at a rate competitive with most popular hybrid cars. The company also plans to install a a network of Uber-branded rapid chargersin central London which will initially be only for use by drivers who use the Uber app. The Uber app will soon allow drivers using a fully electric car with a low battery to identify trips which take them near to a rapid charging point.

The Energy Saving Trust’s Technical project manager, Jacob Roberts, said: “A lack of rapid charging options in London being an issue to private hire drivers was definitely not an unexpected finding. We know that Transport for London (TfL) is planning on getting more installed and the Energy Saving Trust has been helping them to plan this. But it is encouraging to see a large company like Uber taking the initiative and looking to install their own rapid chargers.”

He added: “The key thing to remember is that this study showed that EVs can work as private hire vehicles in London, in the vast majority of cases. We’re so close to getting there; the vehicles have been met with approval from drivers and passengers – it’s now just the infrastructure that’s needed.”

Download the report: ’Electric Private Hire Vehicles in London: On the road, here and now‘.

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