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California Moves to Regulate Climate Impact From Uber, Lyft

Jan. 24, 2020, 12:17 AM

Ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft emit 50% more greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile traveled in California than the average car, state regulators say, and so they are planning first-in-the-world rules to oversee this growing part of the transportation sector.

“This is a really groundbreaking regulation,” California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols said Thursday, adding it is “essential that we find ways to reduce emissions from vehicle transportation.”

The air board regulations will focus on ways to reduce the number of trips drivers take without riders as they transit to pickup destinations, as well as promoting multiple riders taking the same car to different drop-off points. Accelerating the number of zero-emission vehicles in a fleet will also be part of the strategy.

Creating pickup hubs, partnering with transit agencies, and encouraging flexible pricing to promote carpooling are all on the table, said Gloria Pak from CARBs Advanced Clean Cars Regulations Section.

California has long struggled with poor air quality and climate pollutants, and the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the transportation sector. Without reducing emissions the state won’t meet air standards or climate goals.

This is the first time the air board has waded into regulating what’s known as transportation network companies (TNC) and the board is expected to have workshops on the plan this quarter, with a final rule scheduled for a vote at the end of the year.

Enforcement Expected in Three Years

By 2021, CARB will set annual targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the number of miles driven by zero-emission vehicles.

Once CARB has its regulation it will be up to the California Public Utility Commission to monitor and enforce regulations, beginning in 2023.

The regulation was prompted by 2018 legislation that initially sought to make TNC fleets 100% zero-emission by 2030, before that goal was withdrawn.

That law also required CARB to do an emissions inventory of TNC operations, which showed drivers traveled 4.3 billion miles in 2018 and 38% of trips were without paying customers.

But the baseline tally also showed that ride-hailing fleets tend to be newer models and have more electric vehicles than the total passenger fleet in the state.

Uber: ‘We’re Up to the Challenge’

The regulations do not come without challenges, including making sure lowered prices do not adversely affect drivers, Pak said.

Adequate charging infrastructure and passenger desires are also concerns, said Austin Heyworth, public affairs manager for Uber Technologies.

Uber has 150,000 active drivers in California and the company is working on improving emissions there and in more than 60 countries where it operates. The company has an option in Europe where people can specifically select an electric vehicle for their ride.

“We support the clean miles standard,” Heyworth said. “We’re up to the challenge in this industry to have it apply to us first.”

Nichols was also skeptical of how the CARB and CPUC combination would work out, and she also thought it took too long for rules to be in place when the emissions are happening now.

“Melding the two responsibilities I frankly don’t think will work,” Nichols said. “Everybody is going to have to try to make something happen here that makes sense.”

Other Measures

Clean ride-sharing isn’t the only thing on the agency’s agenda. CARB also plans in 2020 to:

  • Offer regulations that would require new lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and other small landscaping equipment to be zero-emission. The agency has loaned equipment to universities to “show it’s possible,” Executive Officer Richard Corey said.
  • Enforce more stringent emission rules for vessels in ports like San Diego and Long Beach. That plan should come before the board in April with plans to set zero-emission goals for medium and heavy-duty trucks the following month.
  • Better understand and calculate wildfire emissions. The state is working with federal agencies to improve emission calculations and air quality warnings. Deploying portable emissions equipment, using satellite data, and releasing a Smoke application for mobile phones is also planned.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily C. Dooley at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at