California Dials Back Plan to Require Uber, Lyft Go Electric

A driver wears a face mask and gloves as Uber and Lyft drivers with Rideshare Drivers United and the
 Transport Workers Union of America conduct a "caravan protest" outside the California Labor Commissioner’s Office amid the coronavirus pandemic on April 16, 2020, in Los Angeles, California.  (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

California on Friday scaled back a proposal to mandate Lyft and Uber to use more electric vehicles on their platforms, with regulators acknowledging that demand for ride-hailing services has cratered during the coronavirus pandemic.

The California Air Resources Board now wants to require that electric or zero-emission vehicles provide 60% of the miles driven on ride-service trips by 2030, agency staff announced during a livestreamed workshop Friday. That’s down from 70%-80%, the figure stipulated in early draft regulations.

The state hopes requiring cleaner cars on ride-hailing platforms will spur innovation in electric vehicles and reduce the emissions of planet-warming gases in a small but rapidly growing part of the state’s transportation sector.

Vehicles driving for Transportation Network Company, as companies like Lyft and Uber are called in California, represented about 1% of greenhouse gas emissions from small vehicles driving on state roads in 2018, according to CARB.

But Lyft and Uber are weathering a storm of events that have ravaged their businesses: the coronavirus pandemic, the ensuing recession and people’s fear of riding in a car with a stranger while the coronavirus continues to rapidly spread in many communities across California and the U.S.

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Regulators cited a projection that demand for Uber and Lyft rides won’t rebound to previous levels until 2023.

People driving for Lyft and Uber use newer and more efficient cars than are owned by the public at large, but research has shown that the average ride-hailing trip emits several times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions compared to the transportation it supplants, mostly because of all the miles driven between pickups.

Substituting an electric vehicle for a conventional car or truck used in the ride-hailing business can achieve nearly three times the reduction in carbon emissions of an electric vehicle that replaces a private car, according to research from UC Davis published in the journal Nature Energy.   

Lyft recently said it wants every vehicle on its platform to be electric by 2030, but critics point out the goal is nonbinding, and Lyft’s leaders have been noncommittal about actually blocking gasoline-powered vehicles on its platform.