Living in the city can be great. You’ve got access to more or less everything you could ever want, consumer-wise, within a close distance. From cinemas and restaurants to quirky little shops for specific nick-nacks, you can find it all.

But if your local area doesn’t have a reliable public transport service, such as frequent buses or a tram system, then it can be a lot harder to get around. Cars aren’t always an option, as there’s very little availability for parking, or, because you live in the city, you may have never learned how to drive in the first place.

An alternative to larger public transport systems is ride-sharing services such as Uber, Lyft or Bolt. These shared vehicles, despite travelling further in a single day than the average car, mean that fewer personal vehicles are on the roads, which can ease traffic and lessen emissions. But electrifying these fleets of cars would improve this even more.

So, let’s take a look at the effectiveness of ride-sharing services and how turning them into electric vehicles can help pave the way towards better, more sustainable urban mobility.

A sign at an airport car park which says ‘rideshare waiting area’

What are ride-sharing services?

Ride-sharing services allow people to use their personal cars in a similar way to taxis. Operating under one larger group, these vehicles can be connected to via mobile apps and called to your location.

Unlike taxis, ride-sharing cars cannot be hailed from the street. The only way to connect with them is via their app. Once you’ve put in a request, nearby drivers will be able to see where you are and where you need to go. It’s up to them to accept or decline your lift request.

Whereas you’d previously have to wait for a taxi to come your way, you can now call a vehicle straight to your location. You can also choose the size of the vehicle to better accommodate larger groups of people who need to travel.

While carpooling is still a common option for many people without vehicles, ride-sharing services are more direct and personalised. You don’t have to wait for bathroom breaks or someone who can’t find their keys.

Electric scooters and bikes that are provided for public use with an app are also ride-sharing vehicles. In Nottingham, SuperPedestrian scooters, painted a bright yellow colour, allow residents to zip around the city. All they need to do is rent one of the scooters using a mobile app. Then, once they’re done, the scooters are returned to a collection point where people can easily find them.

An electric Wind scooter from Nottingham Source
A yellow Wind scooter in Nottingham

How can we electrify ride-sharing services?

Many ride-sharing companies already almost exclusively use electric or hybrid vehicles. For example, 90% of all Uber cars are electric, and Uber wishes to make certain areas of the UK, such as London, 100% electric.

Still, more can be done to make it easier for all ride-sharing vehicles to be electric for maximum sustainability in urban environments.

Here are some key steps to achieve this goal.

EV transition and substitution

Because many ride-sharing services rely on the personal vehicles of their employees, it’s not possible to ensure everyone drives an EV.

Uber has a specific set of requirements you must meet before you can sign up to be a driver, especially in areas such as London. This is because London operates using ‘Low Emission Zones’, which can fine drivers who exceed a certain level of emission production.

However, Uber’s sister company Partner Point can help if you aren’t up to standard. Here, you can rent or lease approved cars to use for your work as a ride-sharing driver.

Both Uber and the UK Government offer benefits and subsidies for drivers making the switch to EVs. For example, the Uber Green option was available exclusively for drivers in fully electric vehicles. From the 14 March until the end of 2022, driver trip payments were 10% higher than on UberX for every single Uber Green trip.

Additionally, the Office of Zero Emission Vehicles has an EV charging port grant, which pays 75% of the cost of installing a charging area at someone’s home. A greater level of incentives, such as waived licensing fees or access to preferential charging rates, would encourage more people to make the switch.

Better charging infrastructure

This brings us nicely to our second point. Having an entirely green fleet of vehicles is always the dream, but it’s not practical if there aren’t enough charging ports to go around.

More needs to be done to encourage collaboration between ride-sharing services and the government to help support charging station providers in urban areas.

Limited space in cities means that many people aren’t able to install charging points outside of their homes. Terraced houses with limited street parking and no garages make for a cramped environment. This means that charging ports have to be strategically placed elsewhere.

An EV car charging at a white pump

A focus on high-demand locations would be ideal for placing these charging stations, as it means that ride-sharing drivers can sit and charge their cars while waiting for a ride request. These locations include:

  • transportation hubs like airports, bus stations, or car parks

  • popular destinations like a city centre or near universities

  • convenient locations like near pubs and restaurants to make it easier for people who have been drinking to get home safely

Make renewable resources a priority

Electric charging infrastructure is only as good as the power behind it. Ride-sharing companies should be encouraged to power their charging ports and EVs with renewable energy sources. Wind, solar, and hydropower can be used in conjunction with fossil fuels to slowly ease our dependency on coal, oil, and gas.

It’s unrealistic to advise companies to cut off their current source of energy immediately, but a gradual integration and shift from one to another can make the process easier to deal with. This ensures that the overall carbon footprint of ride-sharing services is minimised.

Lining a power station’s roof with solar panels or making use of nearby rivers and dams are just some of the ways companies can be more green. Additionally, you can place solar panels near the charging ports themselves for a little extra boost.

Improve education and awareness

Our preliminary research into EV adoption and uptake found that “a key barrier to EVs spreading beyond the initial adopter group is a lack of knowledge”. People are very familiar with petrol and diesel cars and their capabilities, but it can be harder to understand EV cars in the same way if we’re not used to them.

By conducting campaigns to raise awareness and educate ride-sharing drivers and users about the benefits of EVs, we can encourage a cultural shift in attitudes. It’s important to highlight:

  • environmental advantages

  • cost savings for fuel and maintenance

  • positive impact on air quality

  • less noise pollution as a result of quieter engines

Petrol cars cost nearly 3 times as much to run as electric vehicles Source
Electric                                                                  Petrol 4p per mile                                +7.8p                 11.9p £6000 av. lifetime mileage     +£11,700           £17,700

There are certain techniques to driving an EV which maximise their range and efficiency. While it’s true that the battery drains faster in less favourable conditions, such as when you need wipers for the rain, internal heating for the cold, or more lights for dark and foggy environments, ride-sharing services don’t have to worry about the battery draining in one trip.

According to Sherpashare, the average Uber ride is 5.41 miles. When the average range of an EV is between 100 to 300 miles, and the average ride-sharing driver travels between 60 to 100 miles per day, you don’t need to worry about mid-day charging. A routine charging schedule of once per day ensures you’ll never have to worry about your car battery dying on you in the middle of a drive.

By encouraging more customers to use ride-sharing services, you are helping to limit the number of personal cars on the road. This is particularly important for city landscapes where many people have to commute in for work anyway. If you can help the local population get around without the use of a car, it will help to ease traffic in the long run.

Optimise services with data

Leveraging data and analytics allows you to optimise your ride-sharing operations.

  • Demand patterns: Both during the day and throughout the year, there will be moments when people will want to ride-share more than others. For example, during the winter, when it’s colder, people will feel more inclined to use ride-sharing services to avoid the chill. However, the period of time between Christmas and New Year is often the slowest time of year for ride-sharing services. Conversely, more people go out during the summer to take advantage of the warm weather, but they may also prefer to walk or bike rather than sit in a car for shorter journeys.

  • Traffic flow: There will be peak traffic times throughout the day when people are going into and out of work; these will be unavoidable at times, so it’s important to properly plan ahead when working during these hours and make use of any back streets or shortcuts.

  • Charging station location and availability: It’s impossible to make sure that every car has a dedicated charging port, but it is possible to organise schedules or rotas to encourage people to charge at a set time during the day. Alternatively, increasing the amount of charging ports in popular ride-sharing areas means more drivers can charge while they wait.

You may also consider offering larger ride-sharing schemes which encourage people to travel together if they’re heading in the same direction. It may be awkward to sit with a stranger, but lower fees for travelling would be a great incentive. At the end of the day, it would be no different than sitting next to someone on a bus.

By analysing these factors, ride-sharing companies can strategically position their vehicles and allocate resources more efficiently. This will help reduce congestion, optimise routes, and minimise empty trips, leading to more sustainable operations.

Work with public transport, not against it

There is a view that ride-sharing services which use personal vehicles are the direct competitors of larger public transport systems within cities. This is a damaging viewpoint as it ignores the fact that both modes of transport are working towards the same goal: a greener, more sustainable future.

No matter which system a pedestrian takes, it means that there’s one less car on the road. Sometimes it’s more convenient to take a bus or tram than it is to hail an Uber. Or, if it’s a sunny day, you may want to ride on an electric bike or scooter. Having a range of different transportation options means people have the freedom to move as they like.

What’s more, low prices for ride-sharing or public transport systems mean that people save money on what would otherwise be going towards fuel for their cars. It’s a better option all around, for everyone involved.

One way to encourage collaboration is to integrate ride-sharing services into public transport apps or vice versa, allowing people to see all of their options in one place. Alternatively, you could offer discounted fares for ride-sharing trips to and from transit hubs.

Final thoughts

There’s a lot of anxiety around EVs which can be eased through better education around their benefits and capabilities. Sustainable urban mobility doesn’t have to be the stuff of science fiction – we have the ability to do so right now, as long as governments and private companies can come together and work towards the greater good.

For starters, by implementing these strategies we’ve discussed today, ride-sharing services can make significant progress in electrifying their fleets. Not everyone will want to use ride-sharing transportation, and it may not be feasible for people who have to commute to work outside of the city. But opening up a wider range of options, lowering costs, and increasing public knowledge of your services will increase your chances.