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Uber will start paying some drivers to switch to electric cars

Uber drivers who use electric vehicles may be getting a raise under a new pilot project. The company launched a broad effort on Tuesday to get drivers to ditch their dirty, fossil fuel-burning vehicles in favor of cleaner, electric-powered ones — in part by offering them more money to make the switch.

The ride-hailing giant announced a yearlong pilot program to provide cash incentives to some drivers who use electric vehicles, or EVs, with the goal of facilitating at least 5 million trips over the next 12 months. Uber is also adding features to its app for drivers who specifically use these types of vehicles, and it’s partnering with nonprofits and UC-Davis researchers to discover new ways Uber and local governments can encourage EV adoption.

“We see the writing on the wall,” Adam Gromis, Uber’s head of sustainability, told the Los Angeles Times. He said that as cities move toward sustainable transportation, companies such as Uber need to boost their environmental friendliness. “Unless we can be delivering a more efficient form of mobility, we won’t be providing a good solution that cities need. That’s why we’ve gone into bikes. That’s why we’re working with transit. That’s why we’re focused on electrification.”

The pilot is taking place in seven cities: Austin, Los Angeles, Montreal, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle. Cash incentives for drivers who switch to EVs will vary city to city.

In Sacramento, for example, the local publicly owned utility, SMUD, is providing $1.25 per trip that’s completed in a zero-emission vehicle, which Uber will round up to $1.50. Drivers will also receive access to free vehicle charging through SMUD’s DC fast charging network. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) and battery-electric vehicle (BEV) drivers taking trips outside of the utility’s coverage area will still receive $1.50 per trip incentive from Uber.

In San Diego and San Francisco, Uber plans to pay drivers of PHEV and BEV vehicles a dollar per trip. EV charging stations will also be installed in the coming weeks at Uber’s San Diego Greenlight Hub. There will be a maximum payout of $20 per week. In LA, drivers won’t receive any financial perks for EV trips, but Uber plans to provide educational assistance.

In Pittsburgh, Uber is providing $1 per trip for BEV or PHEV vehicles. Uber is also in talks with the Duquesne Light Company to expand the city’s high-speed charging infrastructure, which is a major problem in downtown Pittsburgh. Uber has a $5,000 budget to spend on driver incentives in Pittsburgh in 2018, a spokesperson said.

There were around 4 million trips by Uber drivers in electric cars in the US and Canada in 2017, the company says. So the idea of increasing that to 5 million seems well within reach. The initiative can be seen in the larger context of Uber’s desire to improve its reputation, especially after a disastrous 2017.

Uber’s ongoing rivalry with Lyft is surely another incentive. Lyft recently announced a multimillion-dollar investment to become a completely carbon-neutral transportation service. And its founders have said that by 2025, Lyft will provide at least 1 billion rides per year using electric autonomous vehicles. Currently, there are 100,000 Lyft drivers in the US who use EVs, though some of them probably drive for Uber, too.


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