Uber is introducing a host of new product features to guide its customers towards greener choices. The product features, unveiled today at an event in London, also aim to enhance the company’s chances of achieving its sustainability goals, which will see it become fully carbon neutral in North America and Europe by 2030 and in all global markets by 2040 .
Some of the new products aren’t ready for a global rollout just yet, but the overall goal is to use the platform to encourage riders and drivers to make more environmentally responsible decisions — even as the vast majority of Uber’s business relies on gas-guzzling vehicles. Some of these are subtle nudges, such as new emissions notices or improved routing, while others involve more pressure, such as squeezing cooperation from partners (drivers, restaurants, etc.) that technically don’t work for Uber.
One of the major announcements from the event is the news that Uber Eats is going green. Along with its ridehailing business, the company claims that its popular food delivery service will be fully carbon neutral globally by 2040. to little mamas – to become carbon neutral too.
Here’s a list of some of the new features Uber is announcing today:
Last year, Uber launched Comfort Electric in a handful of cities, the list of which has been growing ever since. Only premium EVs, such as Tesla, Polestar and Ford Mustang Mach-E, are eligible for Comfort Electric travel. (Sorry, Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt.)
It will sit alongside the company’s other EV product, Uber Green, which gives drivers an additional fee (usually $1) to use electric or hybrid vehicles. Uber announced today that Uber Green is also launching in Australia, taking it to 140 cities worldwide.
Another new feature: When they open the app, customers using Uber’s EV hailing products will see a notification letting them know how much emissions they’ve avoided dissipating into the atmosphere. The company sees it as a little bit of positive reinforcement to encourage them to keep using these services.
Uber engineers have also designed a new feature that allows EV drivers to better integrate charging information into the Uber driver app. When rolled out later this year, the new feature will use machine learning to recommend when and where drivers should charge, both on the road and when planning ahead. This is based on uploading information about the driver’s EV into the Uber app. The app also filters ride requests based on a driver’s battery level to hopefully make the charging experience smoother.
The company is also developing a new product called Battery-Aware Matching, which filters ride requests based on an EV’s battery level. This allows drivers to take trips that end near a charger and avoid trips that are too long for their battery. And in the near future, drivers will be able to use their app to start charging, track progress and pay. It’s not clear which vehicles are eligible for this feature, as it depends on a certain level of connectivity that allows it to integrate battery charge status into the Uber app, for example.
The company is also developing a new product called Battery-Aware Matching
Since most of Uber’s business revolves around airport travel, the company announced new “green curbs” for its EV drivers at participating airports, where customers can find their vehicle in a dedicated pick-up zone. And for drivers, Uber offers discounted or sometimes free charging at airport charging stations.
Uber now says it has 60,000 drivers using electric vehicles in North America and Europe, with the bulk of those drivers – 10,000 – driving in London alone. The company has previously announced that it plans to electrify its London fleet by 2025.
Of course, converting the hundreds of thousands of people who drive for Uber to electric vehicles won’t be an easy task. Ridehail drivers are classified as independent contractors and many use their personal cars to drive for not just one but several companies in the gig economy. Uber can’t just force all its drivers to switch without jeopardizing their freelancer status.
Also, EVs tend to be more expensive than gas-powered vehicles, despite costing less to fuel and maintain. That high initial cost can make it a challenge for many drivers, who typically work on incredibly tight margins.
Uber is adding a new feature to Eats that allows customers to search for restaurants that offer sustainable packaging. That will only be available in London, Paris, Amsterdam, New York City, San Francisco and Taipei to begin with.
But it will take much more than sustainable packaging for Uber to credibly claim that it has decarbonised its delivery business. Dara Khosrowshahi, the company’s CEO, acknowledged that in a blog post as she announced that Uber is working with the World Wildlife Fund to develop a rebates, incentives and advocacy toolkit.
“We know we can’t do this alone and we still have a lot to learn,” said Khosrowshahi, “especially when it comes to more sustainable packaging.”
Cycling, car sharing and carpooling
Uber is rolling out several new updates to reduce the need to own a car. Thanks to a partnership with Tembici in Latin America, more bikes will be introduced in the Uber app. (Uber has had a rocky relationship with bike-sharing services.)
In addition, the company is once again launching a car-sharing service. (The company has experimented with car-sharing through partnerships with startups like Getaround, but never really stuck with it.) This time around, Uber is building on its acquisition of Australian car-sharing service Car Next Door to relaunch car-sharing in that country, as well as Boston and Toronto.
The company’s rebranded ridesharing service, UberX Share, is coming to more cities, even as rival Lyft turns its back on carpooling. It will be available in 18 cities in the US and more than 50 worldwide, making it one of the largest carpool services in the world. The company claims it has completely redesigned the underlying technology to improve the product so drivers won’t dislike it as much.
The takeaway meals
It is of course good that Uber is doing more to make its environmentally friendly products more attractive to its customers. But there’s really only so much the company can do without strong legislation requiring drivers to switch to non-polluting vehicles. Fortunately, a number of governments have already done so.
London has such high percentages of EV owners driving for Uber because of the city’s strict air laws. In 2020, the city implemented ultra-low emission zones, in which vehicles pay a fee based on the amount of emissions they produce. No city in the US has anything comparable. The closest thing is New York City’s congestion charging scheme, which is still struggling to go into effect.
Other states have their own approach to forcing Uber to go electric. California passed new rules in 2021 requiring ridesharing companies to electrify their fleets by 2030 — a few years before the state expects to completely ban the sale of new gas cars. And New York City said it would do the same, requiring all rental vehicles to be electric by 2030.
The company is also working to convince more of its drivers to switch from gas-powered vehicles to electric vehicles. Uber recently announced that tens of thousands of drivers have signed up to rent Tesla vehicles through its partnership with rental car company Hertz. That partnership recently expanded to Canada, with Vancouver so far the only city outside the US to receive the company’s EV service.