This is an op-ed from Gina Coplon-Newfield, Sierra Club's Director of Electric Vehicles Initiative. Alexandra Dobell, an intern at the Sierra Club, contributed to this article.
If you think the only way to drive electric is to buy electric, then think again. From ride sharing to car sharing, and short-term rentals to typical rental cars, the auto industry is making it easier for those without their own set of wheels to drive -- or ride -- electric.
Following Trump's announcement of his intention to pull the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement, Lyft announced that to drive climate action and electric vehicle use forward, its shared platform will provide at least 1 billion rides per year using electric autonomous vehicles by 2025. All of the autonomous vehicles on Lyft's platform are going to be powered by 100 percent renewable energy beginning with its nuTonomy vehicles in Boston that will be coming out later this year. This initiative is going to make huge steps toward cleaning up the U.S. transportation sector. It is estimated to provide at least 1 billion rides per year and will reduce CO2 emissions by at least 5 million tons per year by the year 2025.
This isn't Lyft's first announcement of its plans to switch to clean, green, electric autonomous vehicles. In December, Lyft and General Motors (GM) announced that in 2018 they will deploy the largest test fleet of autonomous electric vehicles using a specially equipped version of the Chevy Bolt. Not only is GM providing Lyft with short-term rental vehicles, but they are working on a joint-development of an autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service.
GM currently has no plans to sell its autonomous Bolt, the Bolt AV, to customers. Michael Abelson from GM explains, "If you assume the cost… will be six figures, there aren't very many retail customers that are willing to go out and spend that kind of money… But even at that sort of cost, with a ride-sharing platform, you can build a business." GM also announced that its own car-sharing service, Maven, will add 100 Bolt EVs to its Los Angeles fleet with plans to expand the Bolt into both the San Francisco and San Diego areas. GM's competitors, such as Ford, are also working on providing autonomous ride-share vehicles.
In 2015, there were more than 35,000 people who died in motor vehicle accidents. Many people view autonomous vehicles as a solution to human errors, like distracted driving from eating, talking on the phone, or even road rage. Autonomous cars give people the freedom to text, call, or apply makeup while riding, all without the risks of distracted driving. They even provide greater mobility options for people with disabilities who are unable to drive. Because all of the cars in these fleets could come with a plug, self-driving cars could accelerate us toward clean transportation. This is because electric vehicles, no matter the energy source, emit significantly less carbon dioxide pollution than from conventional vehicles. And as we transition to clean energy sources like wind and solar, electric vehicles only get cleaner. However, we need to make sure that autonomous vehicles are indeed electric and that AV policies are designed to reduce, rather than increase, vehicle miles traveled.
While Lyft will have the largest autonomous fully electric test fleet, there are several other local electric ride-sharing initiatives. In April, Uber launched its first electric initiative in Portland with the goal of making 10 percent of its fleet electric by 2019. WaiveCar, an all-electric vehicle ride-sharing platform, has partnered with Hyundai to offer several free rides in its new all-electric model, the Hyundai IONIQ. With these tests and initiatives in action, we may be seeing electric vehicles dominate ride-share programs in the near future.
Car-sharing companies like ZipCar and Car2Go are also looking to plug-in to clean transportation. These short-term rentals now offer a variety of electric and hybrid vehicles. With hybrids in its fleet as early as the year 2000, ZipCar had some of the earliest ones on the market and has been increasing its number of plug-in hybrid options over the years. Meanwhile, other car-share companies are stepping up and are now offering electric vehicle car-sharing. City Car Share powered by Carma in the San Francisco Bay Area has one of the greenest car-sharing fleets. Not only is fifty percent of its fleet hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric, but they are also adding 16 more electric vehicles that are designed by artist, Zio Zielger. BMW is also bringing electric cars to Portland, Seattle, and Brooklyn, with ReachNow, its car-sharing program, which offers its electric BMW i3 as an option.
Hertz on Demand has been gradually adding electric vehicles as an option for its customers at several of its locations, from Connecticut to San Antonio. However, if you're like me, you've found it difficult to rent a hybrid, let alone an electric, vehicle from a traditional rental car company in the U.S. Modeled after AutoLib in Paris, BlueIndy brought this type of model to Indianapolis. With more than 2,000 members, BlueIndy users have taken more than 21,000 trips-- mainly to and from the airport. Los Angeles recently launched an EV car-sharing program for low-income communities, bringing access to clean transportation to communities who generally go without.
Ride-sharing and car-sharing structures may soon dominate the road. Their cooperation is essential to make moves toward cleaner transportation nationwide. These platforms, if designed smartly in concert with public policy, can reduce individual car ownership and take more cars off the road. But these systems don't necessarily reduce congestion, incentivize people to use public transit, or cut down on the overall number of miles driven, nor do they reduce the amount of pollution being produced by conventional vehicles stuck behind ride-share vehicles in traffic. Lots of work is needed to get all of this right. However, Lyft's commitment to provide around 1 billion of its rides using electric vehicles signifies a big step in the industry in the right direction.