Recently, the rideshare company Lyft formally recognized what so many already know: The combustion engine is a serious threat to the planet.
Citing climate change as the primary reason for its move, the rideshare company committed to 100 percent vehicle electrification as part of its Path to Zero Emissions program. With this act, Lyft joins governments, corporations and individuals committing to zero-carbon emissions.
These pledges are a recognition that our cars, buses and trucks cause more air pollution than any other source in the United States. Emissions from the transportation sector lead to numerous health problems, poor air quality, and a quickly warming climate.
While Lyft’s plan should be applauded, fulfilling its commitment is complicated.
To meet its goals, Lyft plans to transition its fleet to battery electric by 2030. The rideshare company has a three-step plan for how to do it. According to a report from Lyft, it plans to:
Advocate for policies to make electric vehicles (EV’s) more affordable
Lead with EV rentals to provide nearer-term EV access
Build demand for EVs among Lyft platform users
It plans to phase out its non-electric vehicles, beginning with its rental program “Express Drive.” This program allows drivers to rent cars from Lyft, rather than using their personal vehicles. Since Lyft owns these cars, it can electrify them sooner, allowing for emissions reductions in the short term and giving drivers the option to drive electric for Lyft without necessarily purchasing an EV for themselves.
That said, the next step is more difficult because the majority of Lyft drivers use their own vehicles.
Until EV cost-parity with combustion engine cars is achieved, Lyft can only do so much to incentivize private ownership. While many Lyft drivers could choose to switch to electric for climate reasons, the threat of global warming will probably not convince everyone. Many drivers simply won’t take on the cost of an electric vehicle because it’s too expensive. Since the company won't force drivers to buy a new car, its goal is only attainable through cooperation with government leaders and car manufacturers in establishing the right incentives and making electric cars the most affordable option.
Lyft’s Path to Zero Emissions program is ambitious, and rightfully so. However, the program is much more forgiving for personal EV adoption. While Lyft intends to electrify the majority of its company-owned rental cars by 2024, it does not anticipate a majority of private electrification until 2028. That timing is meant to give policymakers and tech innovators time to continue driving down the cost of electric vehicles, which, in turn, should lead to the type of cost-parity that will make buying electric affordable.
To try to help actualize the thornier second part of this plan, Lyft will help make private EV adoption a viable choice by negotiating with auto manufacturers for driver discounts and generally advocating for a greater selection of affordable electric vehicles. To do this, the company aims to sway automakers and legislators to collaborate in expanding EV charging infrastructure, creating more EV tax incentives, and developing specific emissions reductions and electric vehicle deployment timelines.
Along with those tactics, Lyft intends to expand its “Green Mode” option over the next decade. This will allow passengers to specifically choose electric or hybrid vehicles for their next ride, which should further incentivize drivers to go electric.
With millions of drivers and riders using the Lyft platform, this plan could significantly reduce carbon emissions by providing a more sustainable option for Lyft riders.
In fact, if done right, Lyft’s Path to Zero Emissions program could prevent 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, and generate $10 billion in reduced gas and maintenance costs for drivers. The difference between plans and execution can be wide. But all things considered, we can find solace in knowing that Lyft, a leader in the transportation industry, has publicly committed to a more climate friendly future -- a sign that many others will soon follow.