Plug It In Summit 2022: ‘We need brave political leadership’

Andrew Brem, Uber’s UK General Manager  (Uber)
Andrew Brem, Uber’s UK General Manager (Uber)

Back in 2020, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi announced that his company would be EV-only by 2030. Uber’s clean air model, he explained, had been honed in London, where the company had developed a roadmap for Uber’s collaboration across EU cities.

He aligned himself with the policies of London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who has made it his mission in his seven-year tenure to prioritise clean air and lower congestion to benefit all Londoners.

To say this was surprising was an understatement. Just three years earlier, at the very start of his tenure, Khosrowshahi was threatened with Uber losing its London licence after a spate of bad publicity. At that point, friction between the company and Khan seemed insurmountable.

Uber wants all its drivers to drive electric cars by 2030 (CPG Photography Ltd)
Uber wants all its drivers to drive electric cars by 2030 (CPG Photography Ltd)

Today Andrew Brem, Uber’s UK general manager since April, praises the work done by the Mayor. Indeed, first on his list of three factors critical to securing a 100 per cent EV future for the company is bold decision-making by governments and city authorities.

“In London the Congestion Charge and the Ultra Low Emission Zone have shown what decisive leadership can achieve,” he explains. “That’s what we would like to see in other UK cities and in the rest of the world. You can see at COP 27 that we need brave political leadership to make big calls and follow them through.”

London is a great example of how quickly electrification can scale

Uber now operates in more than 10,000 cities around the world, so the company has oversight of the winners and losers in the race to go electric. In terms of its own drivers, London is No 1  for EV presence, with more than 7,000 electric-car drivers. Currently 15 per cent of miles covered by Uber drivers are in fully electric cars; and 90 per cent of new vehicles coming on to the Uber platform are EVs.

The company’s target – based on the London model – is for the US, UK and continental Europe to be fully electric by 2030, with the rest of the world in place by 2040. “London is a great example of how quickly electrification can scale when you have strong partnership with both private and public leaders,” says Brem.

It’s not exactly a carrot and stick approach by local government but the Congestion Charge and ULEZ, coupled with cheaper charging and running costs, has made it financially logical for drivers to go electric. Uber made it even more of a no-brainer for its drivers, setting up a clean air fund to help them make the switch.

For every trip between January 16 2019 and March 14 2022 inside the M25, Uber collected a small fee from riders – drivers’ take was not affected ‒ and the average fund stands at £3,000. Drivers can use their collected money to get a discount on buying an EV or to subsidise renting one.

Andrew Brem addresses a group of drivers at Uber’s London headquarters (Uber)
Andrew Brem addresses a group of drivers at Uber’s London headquarters (Uber)

“Uber drivers have the same anxieties that other people considering EVs have – will it be expensive? How much will I save on fuel and maintenance? Will I have the range?” says Brem. “But for the vast majority, they’re enthusiastic as soon as they acclimatise.”

Although the fund has now closed, EV drivers still earn 15 per cent more as Uber takes a smaller cut from EV fares while riders pay the same amount.

“There have been obstacles, especially for drivers,” Brem points out. “In London, chargers historically correlate with Tesla ownership. W8 is a really good postcode for chargers, for instance, which is a social embarrassment. There are not many Uber drivers in W8.”

Now that the company has the data about where drivers live, and therefore where the chargers need to be, its staff are working with councils in Redbridge, Brent and Newham to fund around 700 new EV charging points, which will also be available to the general public.

Our goal is to make it unnecessary for people to learn to drive

“The charger issue is probably the most complex,” according to Brem. “The realities of planning permission and cost mean multiple entities are involved in selecting location, building and funding the charger. This is where a public and private partnership works. The councils give permission and support the roll-out, and we’re providing £5 million in funding.”

Brem came to Uber from British Airways, where he was the chief commercial officer who saw the company through the pandemic. “Coming from the airline industry and really looking at the roads blew my mind,” he admits. “Aircraft are polluters, but at least they’re properly used. Cars spend most of their time unused or carrying one or two people.

“In London, I can’t see the point of owning a car. It has great public transport and the e-bike revolution is really positive. Admittedly I have an angle on this. Our goal is to make it unnecessary for people to learn to drive.”

Andrew Brem is one of the speakers at our Plug It In Summit at the Design Museum on November 24 (standard.co.uk/plugitin)