Ride share company Uber are planning to increase their fees for customers in London.  They plan to add a surcharge, expected to be 15p a mile to pay towards electric cars for its drivers.

The ‘electric car’ fee is expected to be introduced in early 2019.

According to Uber this would mean that its drivers working a 40 week would get cash help of about £1.500 a year from passengers towards the purchase of an electric car.

The top up fee scheme would also help towards plans to reduce air pollution in the capital, say Uber.

They also said it expected the scheme to raise more than £200m ($260m) over the “next few years” to help drivers swap vehicles.

The fee would add about 45p to the average London journey.

Uber currently has about 40,000 drivers in London and they hope to help 20,000 drivers switch by 2021 with all converted to electric cars by the middle of the decade.

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s chief executive, released a statement saying

“The plan was a long-term investment in the future of London aimed at going all electric in the capital in 2025”.

“Over time, it’s our goal to help people replace their car with their phone by offering a range of mobility options – whether cars, bikes, scooters or public transport – all in the Uber app.”

It said the introduction of the fee would build on other partnerships it has fostered to improve London’s infrastructure for electric vehicles which have led to the installation of more charging points.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Mayor of London said Uber’s recognition on the importance of clean air was a “positive step”.

She added: “Electric cars are not a complete solution. We also need to address the damaging impact that the rising number of private hire vehicles has on congestion and air pollution.”

Greener cars subsidies ‘cut’

The Uber initiative comes soon after the UK government decided to cut subsidies for buying greener cars.  From 9 November, grants for plug-in hybrids will stop and those for all-electric cars will shrink from £4,500 to £3,500.

Professor David Bailey, an expert in industrial strategy from Aston University, said the move was a “welcome first step”.

“Uber is not doing this out of the goodness of its heart,” he told the BBC, explaining that larger London plans to clean up the capital’s air will put more and more restrictions on the types of vehicles that can pass through it.

“If they don’t act they risk not having any drivers or customers,” he said.

“The move to electric cars is going to happen anyway and they want to be seen to be playing their part,” said Prof Bailey.

Environmentalists are not alone in welcoming the idea.  Many Londoners, although they may have to pay more for their ride can see the huge benefits of reducing pollution on the streets. Walking along the road on some London streets you can actually smell the fuel fumes.  There have been stories of people moving carbon monoxide alarms away from windows to stop them going off unnecessarily.

For Ubers drivers using the new surcharge means they should be able to build up £4,500 from the clean air levy over three years – but that will still leave many of them struggling to afford an electric car.

By then some of them will have moved on – after all, Uber driving is often a short-term activity – and the money they have saved will just go back into the central fund.

Charging points could be a problem.

But the biggest problem is going to be charging. Most drivers will not have off-street parking where they can plug in overnight.

Dara Khosrowshahi admits there is a problem with the infrastructure. “The city is going to need to invest in it and we’ll need to support them.”

Other concrete steps Uber could take would involve it letting drivers of electric vehicles keep more of the cash passengers pay, he said.

“There are still quite significant barriers to electric vehicle take-up,” said Prof Bailey.

The relatively high cost of electric vehicles was one factor, as was the lack of charging points and fears about range.

Those problems would be solved in time, he said, but government and other policy makers also needed to think about smarter ways to get people moving to using electric cars and other vehicles.