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Uber electric vehicle trial: 'Appy' drivers?

•    EVs win over drivers and passengers in London trial
•    Concerns raised over supporting infrastructure
•    Personal impact could spur action

Studies that bring instant results are a rare thing – but Energy Saving Trust's recent trial of electric vehicles (EVs) in London with global technology company Uber certainly bucks the trend. 

The company has decided to add 100 more Nissan Leafs to its platform on the back of the three-month trial 'Electric Private Hire Vehicles in London: On the road, here and now', and has plans in place to work with charge companies to install rapid charging infrastructure for use by its partner drivers in the capital.

Energy Saving Trust's Technical Project Manager, Jacob Roberts (pictured), is naturally pleased with the swift response to the study, which involved over 50 of Uber's partner drivers and over 35,000 passengers, collecting both journey data and the views of drivers. 

Jacob Roberts from the Energy Saving TrustHe said: “That's the type of short-term action that we hoped our study would bring about. A lot of previous work, by the Energy Saving Trust and others, has looked at how electric vehicles work in companies. This study was specifically about hearing the drivers’ perspective. The most positive thing about that is that we got to understand what impact driving an EV had on the lives of the participants; where EVs worked for them and where they didn’t.”

“The participants of the trial were amazing, by the way. They understood the environmental benefits on offer and they took to the EVs really well. They gave us exactly the kind of insight that I feel was previously absent from the electric vehicle debate.”

Driving positive, charging less so

Vehicles were well received by drivers, and regularly remarked upon by passengers in overwhelmingly positive tones. But the trial has undeniably raised significant areas where improvement needs to be seen before EVs become an entirely viable option for private hire firms.

Jacob said: “This was not from a company's perspective, it was about how the vehicles worked for the individuals driving them – and that really brings some of the challenges home. There were examples of drivers running out of charge, mid-shift, and others having to change their lifestyle quite significantly to fit around the demands of charging their vehicle. It showed the human effect of the current lack of rapid charging infrastructure in London, and the importance of being able to charge at home.”

Domestic charging emerged as a more significant issue for drivers than perhaps had been imagined before the trial. 

He explained: “Many drivers had to leave their vehicles overnight at public charging point, which lacks the convenience and economy of charging at home. Whilst providing rapid chargers for electric private hire vehicles is important, so too is providing the option of domestic charging – especially to large number of private hire drivers who do not have off-street parking.”

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Towards a connected capital

The trial heightens the focus on EV infrastructure in and around London. Uber is taking matters into its own hands, but this is not an option for everyone. 

“A lack of rapid charging options in London being an issue to private hire drivers was definitely not an unexpected finding. We know that Transport for London (TfL) is planning on getting more installed and the Energy Saving Trust has been helping them to plan this. But it is encouraging to see a large company like Uber taking the initiative and looking to install their own rapid chargers." Jacob Roberts, Technical Project Manager, Energy Saving Trust

“Rapid charging infrastructure in particular is so important. In this case, the longer drivers spent looking for charge points and then charging meant the less time they had to put their vehicle to work and make a living.”

Going electric can work for many

EST's Uber EV trialInterestingly, the trial's report shows that drivers' views of EV suitability for their non-work lives are significantly more positive than their overall reflections. While this does show that zero tailpipe emissions vehicles haven't quite got their work/life balance sorted just yet, it highlights that they're a very suitable option for a lot of households. 

Convenience is king when it comes to earning a livelihood with a vehicle, and it’s clear that in this respect, EVs are some distance away from achieving parity with non-electric options. If the report was to be summed up in three words, they'd probably be 'charging, charging, charging'. 

Nonetheless, Jacob is far from downhearted when considering the potential of EVs in this sector. 

He added: “The key thing to remember is that this study showed that EVs can work as private hire vehicles in London, in the vast majority of cases. We're so close to getting there; the vehicles have been met with approval from drivers and passengers – it's now just the infrastructure that's needed.”

Download the report: 'Electric Private Hire Vehicles in London: On the road, here and now'.

Learn more about electric cars and vehicles, EV tariffs and OLEV's On-street Residential Chargepoint Scheme. Find out more with #OLEVORCS on Twitter, and share our dedicated Twitter Moment.

Post your thoughts with us in the comments or tweet us at @EnergySvgTrust.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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