Uber is introducing a host of new product features aimed at steering its customers toward greener choices. The product features, which were unveiled at an event in London today, are also intended to boost the company’s chances of reaching its sustainability goals, which have it going completely carbon neutral in North America and Europe by 2030 and in all global markets by 2040.
Some of the new products are not ready for a global rollout, but the overall aim is to use its platform to encourage riders and drivers to make more environmentally friendly decisions — even if the vast majority of Uber’s business relies on gas-guzzling vehicles. Some of that involves subtle nudges, like new emissions notifications or improved routing, while others will entail more pressure, such as squeezing cooperation out of partners (drivers, restaurants, etc.) that don’t technically work for Uber.
Uber Eats is going green
One of the major announcements to come out of the event is the news that Uber Eats is going green. Along with its ridehailing business, the company claims its popular food delivery service will be completely carbon neutral globally by 2040. It’s an ambitious plan, seeing as how it will require all 800,000 restaurants on the company’s delivery platform — everything from global fast-food franchises to small mom-and-pops — to go carbon neutral as well.
Here’s a list of some of the new features that Uber is announcing today:
Last year, Uber launched Comfort Electric in a handful of cities, the list of which has been steadily growing since then. Only premium EVs, like Tesla, Polestar, and Ford Mustang Mach-E, would be considered eligible for Comfort Electric trips. (Sorry, Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt.)
It will sit alongside the company’s other EV product, Uber Green, which gives drivers an extra fee (usually $1) to use electric or hybrid vehicles. Uber announced today that Uber Green is launching in Australia as well, bringing it up to 140 cities globally.
Another new feature: when they open the app, customers who use Uber’s EV-hailing products will see a notification informing them how much emissions they avoided expelling into the atmosphere. The company sees it as a little bit of positive reinforcement to encourage them to keep using these services.
Uber engineers also designed a new feature who EV drivers that will better integrate charging information into Uber’s driver app. When it rolls out later this year, the new feature uses machine learning to recommend when and where drivers should charge, both while on the road and when planning ahead. This is based on uploading information about the driver’s EV into the Uber app. The app will also filter trip requests based on a driver’s battery level to hopefully make the at-charger experience more seamless.
The company is also developing a new product called Battery-Aware Matching, which filters trip requests based on an EV’s battery level. This way, drivers can 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 begin their charge, monitor its progress, and pay. It’s not clear which vehicles will be eligible for this feature, given it will rely on some level of connectivity that will allow it to integrate, for example, the state of charge on the battery into Uber’s app.
The company is also developing a new product called Battery-Aware Matching
Considering most of Uber’s business revolves around trips to the airport, the company announced new “green curbs” for its EV drivers at participating airports, where customers can find their vehicle in a dedicated pickup zone. And for drivers, Uber is offering discounted or occasionally 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 — operating just in London. The company has previously announced it plans to electrify its fleet in London by 2025.
Of course, getting the hundreds of thousands of people who drive for Uber to switch to electric vehicles will be no easy task. Ridehail drivers are classified as independent contractors, and many use their personal cars to drive for not just one but several gig economy companies. Uber can’t just force all its drivers to make the switch without jeopardizing their status as freelancers.
Also, EVs tend to be more expensive than gas vehicles, despite costing less to fuel and maintain. That steep upfront cost may make it a challenge for many drivers, who typically operate with incredibly tight margins.
Uber is adding a new feature to Eats that will allow 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 start out.
But it will take a lot more than sustainable packaging for Uber to credibly claim it has de-carbonized its delivery business. Dara Khosrowshahi, the company’s CEO, acknowledged that in a blog post while announcing that Uber is teaming up with the World Wildlife Fund to develop a toolkit of discounts, incentives, and advocacy.
“We know we can’t do this alone and we have a lot to learn,” Khosrowshahi said, “especially when it comes to more sustainable packaging.”
Bikes, car-sharing, and carpooling
Uber is rolling out several new updates aimed at reducing the need to own a car. More bikes will be introduced on Uber’s app thanks to a partnership with Tembici in Latin America. (Uber has had a rocky relationship with bike-sharing services.)
In addition, the company is launching a car-sharing service — again. (The company has experimented with car-sharing through partnerships with startups like Getaround but has never really stuck with it.) This time, Uber is building off 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 carpooling 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 over 50 globally, making it one of the biggest carpooling services in the world. The company claims it has totally redesigned the underlying technology to improve the product so drivers don’t hate it so much.
Of course, it’s 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 absent of strong legislation requiring drivers to switch to non-polluting vehicles. Fortunately, a bunch of governments have already done that.
London has such high rates of EV owners driving for Uber because of the city’s rigorous clear-air laws. In 2020, the city implemented ultra-low emission zones, in which vehicles are charged a fee based on the amount of emissions they produce. No cities in the US have anything similar. The closest is New York City’s congestion pricing scheme, which is still struggling to go into effect.
Other states have their own approach to forcing Uber to go electric. California adopted new rules in 2021 requiring ridesharing companies to electrify their fleets by 2030 — a few years before the state expects to prohibit the sale of new gas cars completely. And New York City said it would do the same, requiring all for-hire vehicles to be electric by 2030.
The company is also working to convince more of its drivers to make the switch from gas-powered vehicles to EVs. Uber recently announced that tens of thousands of drivers have signed on to rent Tesla vehicles through its partnership with car rental company Hertz. That partnership recently expanded to Canada, with Vancouver being the one city outside the US to get the company’s EV service so far.