In efforts to move towards more sustainable urban mobility — cities, taxi, ride-hail and PHV operators, and consumers alike are all rushing towards electric cars. But electric vehicles alone will not solve all urban mobility issues at hand. We also need to radically improve vehicle utilisation, and taxi, ride- hail, and PHV operators need to play a big role in this shift.
By 2025, it is expected that 10% of car sales globally will be EVs. Norway is leading this charge full speed; just this month, EV car sales reached 65% of car sales on the market. It’s a bolstering industry that is only going to grow exponentially before it slows down.
Ride-hail, taxi, and PHV operators are following suit. Big players like Uber, Lyft, and Didi are pushing to shift to EV fleets, while local players like Sherbet in London and Go Eco Cabs in Lyme Regis are committing to 100% EV fleets.
Ride-hail and taxi customers are no exception to this EV demand. Research by FREE NOW showed that over a quarter of Brits are willing to pay more for an EV ride.
Across the map, cities are rolling out low emission zones in their urban centres, while London recently introduced a development bylaw that calls for electric charging docks on all new buildings, residential and non-residential. Their actions speak for themselves — authorities and service operators are ushering in a new electric era for vehicle transportation.
What’s driving the shift to sustainable urban mobility?
We know what’s pressing this proverbial electric gas pedal; contributing 19% road transportation is the single largest CO2 emission contributor. As countries like the UK race to meet carbon neutrality goals, they know cars are an essential part of the puzzle to be fixed.
The urgency for green solutions is heightened in cities with mounting pressures from growing populations that increase strain on public infrastructure. Cities and transportation stakeholders desperately strive to make the best use of urban space and make transportation equitable for all. Several cities are regulating traffic to give more space for pedestrians and bikes, while also working to provide greener alternatives for commuters to help meet their carbon emission goals.
However, if we were to swish a green magic wand to make all the cars in our cities electric, we would still be mounted with urban mobility issues. Sound pollution would be alleviated, but CO2 emissions will not be eliminated until we are using 100% renewable energy, and 100% EVs still do not tackle the issues of congestion or sustainable and equitable urban space at all.
Let’s get smarter about how we use cars in cities.
I want you to zoom out for a moment and imagine your city from a birds-eye view. Think about how much of its space is given to cars, be it if they’re parked or taking up lanes of traffic.
It’s not just in London that cars take up a lot of space; it’s an issue that mayors across the map are trying to solve. We simply need to reduce the number of cars in our cities. This involves increasing active mobility and public transportation — but it also calls on rethinking how cars are used and making private cars use an
archaic fad of the past.
Private cars vs. ride-hail & taxi cars? The more sustainable of the two is clear.
Compared to private ownership, cars in professional fleets have more sustainability capabilities and potential. They can scale and adapt to the latest and greenest EV technologies much more rapidly than a private owner. If a private owner buys a car, it is used for 4% of the time on average, making the car's life cycle last longer and therefore become more outdated. It’s an advantage of scale.
Furthermore, beyond considering emissions, fleets can be much better optimised in a sustainable way for two simple reasons.
Firstly, taxi and ride-hail vehicles are kept moving and don’t take up space with parking. They simply move people at a higher rate than a privately owned car.
Secondly, taxi and ride-hailing services have a better ability to synchronise with other modes of transport, namely public transport, and hone in specialising where they work best.
If cars are kept moving people, not parked, and used in conjunction with other forms of transport, namely backbone, rapid transit, it will improve road space use and traffic flow.
With less traffic, road space could be given to support other modes of active transportation like bike lanes and pedestrian pavilions in denser urban areas. Or, this roadside space could be given to flora to help offset carbon emissions.
Some cities, such as Cambridge and Leeds, have implemented park and ride schemes to allow outer city residents to park their cars at public transit hubs. While this is a good intermediary move, it simply moves the car space issue from urban centres to parking lots in suburbs, regardless if these cars are EVs or not.
We just need to dare to think out of our private car comfort zone box to understand that ride-hailing and taxi cars are better for commuters and our cities — optimising how we use cars.
The role of ride-hail and taxi operators in going green, beyond just EVs.
Beyond using EVs, taxi and ride-hail operators have a lot more potential to lessen their impact on cities, help motivate people from using their own cars, and optimise their business — all in the same stride.
1) Use mileage to move people.
While those empty miles are necessary to pick up passengers, they’re undesirable — they don’t bring in any income and they contribute to road congestion and traffic. The goal is to cut them down and optimise every mile driven as much as possible.
One way to do so is by integrating intermodality with public transportation into taxi and ride-hail routes. This makes pickup points more flexible so drivers don't have to drive as far without a passenger. Shorter journeys and pickup times open the door for more flexible order stacking and shorter but more frequent rides.
2) Use taxis and ride-hail cars where they work best.
Division of labour and specialisation — this is what Adam Smith taught us in regards to running a business efficiently and effectively. Let’s apply it to the taxi and ride-hailing services and step back to assess where within a city and an urban mobility ecosystem they work best and have the most potential.
All cars alike usually get stuck in congestion in inner city areas and along major transit routes; these are areas where active mobility and public transportation respectively should be optimised. Taxis and ride-hail cars should complement this and work more where they work best: in low density areas. It is here that they have the most potential to optimise and specialise their services.
3) Let’s make taxi and ride-hail services an easy choice over private cars.
So, we know taxis and ride-hail vehicles have less environmental impact than privately owned cars, largely because they fit into a mobility ecosystem much better. In addition to the ability to scale to implement greener technologies faster, taxi and ride- hailing services allow for optimised car use compared to private cars which are parked 96% of the time on average in the UK.
To motivate people to leave their cars at home, we need to think from the commuters’ standpoint. They want to get from their unique A to B journey efficiently, affordably, and comfortably.
Let’s first look at the case for just using public transportation. It’s more likely than not that commuters don’t live within a timely or comfortable walking distance to a public transport station. They may also have further connections that take up more time. Generally speaking, public transport can be inconvenient and uncomfortable.
And what about the case for just using ride-hail or taxi services? Ask the average person and they’ll say it’s too expensive to use daily. Plus, they can get stuck on major traffic routes or in inner city areas.
What about a combination that uses the best of ride- hail and taxi on the first or last mile paired with the best of rapid, public transit? Perfect. It’s much more affordable, comfortable, and time effective.
Driving beyond electric cars and to a more sustainable future.
While we do need EVs, we also need to integrate them into the urban mobility ecosystem mix — and for this, taxi, ride-hail, and PHV operators play a central role. And it’s up to them to shake up the traditional roles of their services, both by collaborating with other urban mobility providers and by equipping themselves with the right intermodal tool to make their services more affordable, comfortable, and convenient for people to use over using their own car.
Juraj Atlas is the co-founder of the largest Czech ride-hailing company, Liftago. With his current project Mileus, they provide technology for intermodal transportation that combines on- demand transportation services with public transport for rapid, yet sustainable growth of taxi & ride-hailing operators and more liveable cities. Mileus was ranked Top 5 Intermodal Mobility Solutions by StartUs Insights.