And they benefited from significantly lower refueling costs, with EVs costing around 10 cents a mile to run using public charge points compared to 11 cents for a hybrid and 16 cents for a diesel car. The report also noted that costs for EVs fall below 5 cents per mile if drivers can charge at home, but relatively few Londoners have access to the off-street parking that makes home charging viable. However, for all the upsides of EV use, the availability of charge points and the nagging problem of range anxiety proved a major issue for drivers in the study. All drivers (except those behind the wheel of the 230-mile range Tesla) reported turning down journeys to airports or said they only turn on comforts such as heating or air conditioning when passengers were in the car, in order to conserve battery power. Half declined a journey at least once a week, and many said they were turning down business at least once a day due to battery concerns. Tracking devices attached to a selection of the trial cars confirmed the Ubers stuck to trips in a much narrower geographic area than a standard Uber usually would does.
The time needed to charge an EV during a shift also had a significant impact on the amount of hours drivers were able to workand therefore a toll on their earnings potential. Only three publicly available rapid charge points are in central London, which take around 40 minutes to deliver an 80% charge, while the next speed downfast chargingtakes up to four hours for a full recharge.
The majority of drivers said they would have worked an extra 10 hours a week had they not had to spend time finding and using a charge point, and many reported arranging their daily lives around the need to charge their carsincluding 30-minute walks to the nearest charge points to pick their car up after an overnight session or getting up in the middle of the night to plug in.
Drivers participating in the study received favorable leasing rates for their EVsputting the costs in line with hybrid modelsand in some cases cheaper recharging rates from selected charge points. The study noted that without these, the lost earnings from forced charging time and the opportunity cost of foregoing trips for fear of dwindling charge means driving an all-electric EV would not currently be economically feasible for Uber drivers.
Charging cars can be costly for drivers, and there's a serious lack of rapid charging points.
"If electric private-hire vehicles are to be adopted by private- hire drivers at scale, the cost (both time and financial) and convenience of charging and running an electric vehicle must reach near parity with non-electric options," the study concluded. "This trial has shown that although there is cause for optimism with regard to both riders' and drivers' readiness to embrace electric vehicles, even with financial support through incentives such as below-market vehicle rental costs, this parity remains a distance away."
The good news is that TfL (Transport for London) plans to install 150 rapid charge points across London by 2018, and 300 by 2020. Even if a number of these will be placed in dedicated black cab rest stops to help smooth the way for the new plug-in, range-extended TX5 black cab, drivers soon will have access to many more charge points.
Meanwhile, the range of EVs is improving all the time, prompting BMW CEO Harald Krüger to declare recently that soon "range will no longer be a differentiating factor" for EVs. Uber drivers who operate EVs will not have to turn down long-distance fares for much longer.
Moreover, Uber is taking matters into its own hands in a bid to accelerate the shift to lower emission vehicles. Earlier this week the company announced plans to develop a network of Uber-branded rapid chargers in central London only available for use by drivers using the Uber app. An update to the Uber app also will enable drivers to set a preferred destination for a trip so they will be taken in the direction of a rapid charging point when necessary.
Uber also said it plans to offer 100 more Nissan Leafs to drivers at reduced leasing prices over the next year, in a bid to further investigate the barriers to EV adoption in the private-hire transport sector. "We believe that new technology can help tackle the challenge of air pollution in the capital. Londoners already associate Uber with hybrid cars, but we want to go even further with more drivers switching to fully electric ones," an Uber representative 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."
London's black cabs may be going green, but without a more comprehensive charging network and longer ranges for mass market vehicles, it seems the rest of the city's taxi fleet won't be moving to the fast lane of EV adoption quite as quickly.