Lyft will introduce a new feature in Seattle on Wednesday to allow riders to select hybrid and electric vehicles. The company also plans to add electric vehicles into its fleet of rental cars.
Lyft passengers in Seattle will see a new option when hailing a ride in the app: Green Mode.
Selecting that option will call a hybrid or electric vehicle. The company plans to launch the new mode in Seattle on Wednesday and later expand it to other cities.
Lyft will also introduce new electric vehicles to its rental-car fleet, known as Express Drive, the company announced. The program allows Lyft drivers to rent vehicles at rates that vary based on how many rides they give with the rental car. Drivers can also use the vehicles for personal use.
Lyft will add thousands of electric vehicles to the Express Drive fleet, hundreds of them in Seattle, Chief Operating Officer Jon McNeill said Tuesday. McNeill declined to give exact numbers.
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During a recent trip to the Pacific Northwest, Lyft leaders spoke with riders and drivers, McNeill said. “The number one piece of feedback in Portland and Seattle was electric cars — number one from drivers and from passengers,” he said.
Of the cities where the company operates, Seattle has the largest share of Lyft drivers already using electric or hybrid cars, McNeill said.
The company is positioning the announcement as part of its environmental efforts and a way to improve driver pay thanks to reduced fuel costs.
Drivers for Lyft and Uber have criticized the companies over pay issues. Unlike traditional employers, the companies are not required to comply with minimum-wage laws because their drivers are considered independent contractors, not employees.
Some drivers have said it’s difficult to make ends meet driving on the platforms. In Seattle, lawmakers attempted to address pay issues by giving Uber and Lyft drivers the right to unionize, but the effort stalled amid legal challenges and the City Council recently reversed a key provision of the law.
McNeill said electric vehicles will allow drivers who rent through the Express Drive program to save on gas — their “number one out-of-pocket cost” — and maintenance.
Lyft has also in recent years announced a carbon-offset program, promising to make all rides carbon neutral, and gotten into the scooter- and bike-share business.
“This is a way for us to really do things for the environment and to help with driver take-home pay,” McNeill said. The company declined to say how many of its drivers use the rental program.
Ride-hailing companies have also faced some criticism from environmental and transit advocates who argue that although the companies can help people give up their individual vehicles, they can also cannibalize transit or walking trips.
A study last year found that Uber and Lyft trips added about 94 million additional miles to Seattle-area roads in 2017. In response to the study, the companies pointed to other factors driving congestion, including the city’s booming economy.
Nick Abraham, a spokesman for the Washington Environmental Council, said his organization broadly supports efforts toward automobile electrification, but “we absolutely don’t see it as a substitute for cheaper, cleaner mass transportation” that is accessible to people of all income levels.
Companies like Lyft should couple electrification efforts with advocacy for more electric-vehicle infrastructure, Abraham said. “Having a company like that that people use every day [advocating for electric vehicle infrastructure] would be a big deal,” he said.
To start, Express Drive rental rates will include charging, and all charging will be covered by renewable energy, either directly or through renewable-energy credits, the company said.
Company representatives said Lyft worked with “partners” throughout the Seattle area to make existing charging stations available for Express Drive drivers, but would not provide more details.
This story has been updated to remove a reference to taxi drivers being traditional employees subject to minimum wage regulations.