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Could urban charging deserts hinder ride-hailing EV adoption—and cleaner air?



As a lack of Level 2 AC charging infrastructure gets in the way of EV ownership in some urban areas, the lack of fast-charging could slow electric ride-hailing adoption, according to new analysis from the clean-energy advocacy group Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI).

With so many vehicles from the likes of Uber and Lyft on city streets, electrifying ride-hailing will be an important part of reducing emissions. California has already mandated that a certain number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are electric starting in 2023. Uber and Lyft have pledged to make their ride-hailing services all-electric by 2030.

Yet meeting anticipated charging demand in Los Angeles would require the local public DC fast-charging network to grow three to six times by 2030, the analysis found.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV added to Maven car- and ride-sharing fleet in Los Angeles, California

Using anonymized data from General Motors’ defunct Maven Gig (which rented cars to ride-hailing drivers) in L.A., RMI found that EV ride-hailing drivers generally stuck close to areas with existing charging stations.

Those stations tended to be located in higher-income areas, meaning less potential for air-quality improvements from electric ride-hailing in low-income areas, according to the analysis.

EVs put to use in ride hailing deliver more carbon benefits, a previous study sound. So it’s especially important to get some of the fastest-charging stations in urban spaces.

Evenly distributing DC fast charging stations across the city would require a major buildout, but it would likely be financially sustainable for charging-network operators, the analysis found. Such an expanded network would see over 30% utilization, “more than enough” to support its construction and operation, according to RMI.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car in Maven car-sharing fleet, Los Angeles [photo: Dan MacMedan fo

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car in Maven car-sharing fleet, Los Angeles [photo: Dan MacMedan fo

The analysis noted that high site-development costs and unfavorable utility-rate structures still represent major obstacles for DC fast-charging infrastructure expansion. GM planned to help build a subsidized fast-charging network for Maven Gig, but the project never scaled up. The entire Maven brand, which focused on mobility services, was eventually scrapped.

That means companies like Uber and Lyft may end up having to figure out charging for their drivers. U.K. startup Arrival is supposedly developing an electric car specifically for Uber, but the ride-hailing firm hasn’t had much to say about charging.

Alternatively, California announced late last year that it would disperse $20 million to get more EVs to the underserved. The Clean Mobility Operations Voucher Pilot Program (CMO) was empowered to use that money to fund car-sharing and other mobility services using zero-emission vehicles.

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