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Decarbonising transport - Institute for Emerging Technologies & Social Impact

Decarbonising transport

How the electrification of high-mileage fleet vehicles can speed decarbonisation

All levels of the automotive industry are feeling the pressure to adapt to the energy transition. From automobile manufacturers to individual consumers, there has been a global push for electric vehicles, especially for personal EVs.

While it is important to continue to support this global trend and to encourage the average individual to do their part if they can, world governments, automobile manufacturers, and environmental influencers are failing to encourage a crucial sector of the transportation industry to switch to EV -namely fleet companies.

Did you know that fleet vehicles, which consist of taxis, hire cars, and public utility vehicles, drive 4 times more miles than the average car? Coining them as high-mileage vehicles, fleets contribute a significant amount to global CO2 emissions. However, while they are part of the problem, they are also part of the solution.

In fact, fleet vehicles offer a unique opportunity to curb our global emissions. By electrifying fleets, we can accelerate the EV movement by 3-4 times this decade. This will help mitigate over 70% of CO2 emissions related to transport, remove 50% of cities’ air pollution, and increase global access to EVs.

Beyond helping our planet, EV fleets can help countries and companies reach their respective carbon emission targets.

Furthermore, they can reduce operating costs for individuals and businesses. According to Go Ultra Low, a joint government and industry EV initiative in the UK, switching a fleet of petrol or diesel vehicles to EVs can save 20-30% in upkeep and repair costs alone.

Large multinational fleet firms have noted these benefits, making commitments to transfer to EV soon. Free Now aims to have all rides across Europe be emission-free by 2030. Lyft is committed to having 100% EV by 2030. Uber wants all rides across their global markets to be emission-free by 2040.

While these goals will help curb global CO2 emissions, companies and individuals beyond these international conglomerates need to make the switch. To be effective, the transition to fleet EVs needs to be quicker for all parties involved.

However, there are multiple challenges with shifting to EV fleets.

Firstly, many existing fleet operators do not have the funding to purchase or maintain EVs. Despite the costs EVs save fleet operators in the long run, if these fleets do not have the funds for the initial investment, they will not make the transition.

Secondly, certain cities and regions lack the necessary infrastructure to support EVs. In cities such as Madrid and Paris, insufficient charging infrastructure due to lack of funds or available space, both in the city and its surrounding suburbs, has discouraged the shift to EVs. In addition, a lack of loading zones, EV parking spaces, and EV perks, such as priority EV lanes, has stunted the growth of EVs in these cities.

Thirdly, miseducation or a lack of educational resources surrounding EV fleets has stalled their growth, especially with small, independent fleets. Sceptics voice their concerns over the durability and mileage of EVs, even though recent studies show the latest EVs can travel 200 miles in a single charge, with rapid charging stations charging a standard EV to 80% in under an hour. Others, especially older drivers in the taxi industry, are reluctant to adapt to modern technologies. Some are unaware of the benefits of shifting to EV fleets.

In response to these challenges, the World Economic Forum (WEF) founded the Zero Emissions Urban Fleets Network (ZEUF). Acknowledging these difficulties, and further understanding the unique benefit EV fleets play in the future of decarbonised transport, ZEUF was created to provide a platform for city-specific and public-private efforts. With partners such as Uber, T&E, and Free Now, ZEUF aims to bring the discussion to all, aiming to achieve 100% urban fleet-electrification in European cities by 2030.

In recent months, ZEUF has hosted meetings in Madrid, Paris, and Portugal. Recognizing the individual challenges each city faces, ZEUF has partnered with local start-ups and city councils to create innovative solutions.

In Madrid, the local government recently committed to increasing grants for EV fleets and charging infrastructure after their meeting with ZEUFShare Now, a start-up carsharing company, has pledged to share their data with Madrid City Council to ensure these new EV chargers are placed in the most effective locations across the city.

While initiatives such as Go Ultra Low and ZEUF are doing their part by educating citizens through problem-solving workshops with different sectors, more needs to be done. Governments and businesses in both the public and private spheres need to continue to collaborate. In doing so, they will not only help achieve their decarbonisation goals, but the ultimate aim of these goals – to reduce the volume of emissions in our atmosphere to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In the words of Dr Christoph Wolff, the WEF’s Head of Mobility Industries and Systems Initiatives, “if high-kilometre vehicles in cities electrify at scale, we may stand a chance at climate change and clean urban air.” I hope we do.

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