Uber is launching a fleet of fully electric cars across London in a bid to reduce levels of pollution in the capital ahead of another potential clash with the city's transport regulators.
Already well-known for its hybrid Toyota Priuses, 50 electric powered cars will hit the city's roads over the next month with potential plans for hundreds more if successful.
The billion-dollar startup is partnering with Nissan and Chinese electric car maker BYD to offer its Leaf and E6 models to top-r rated Uber drivers, and will also roll out the pilot project in another, as yet unnamed, city elsewhere in Britain in the coming months.
At the same time the ride-sharing firm, which is transforming itself into a transportation company, will explore the effect of electric cars on the capital in a research project carried out in conjunction with the Energy Saving Trust.
The three month study will look at the economics of electric vehicles among private hire vehicles, the capacity of charging points across the capital and the overall feasibility of introducing a large number of electric cars to London's roads.
“We are determined to use technology to help tackle the challenge of air pollution in London and across the UK," said Uber UK general manager Jo Bertram.
"Of course there are challenges ahead. A bigger roll out of fully electric cars needs a good network of charging points and the economics must add up for drivers too. That's why the three-month study by the Energy Saving Trust is so important. We look forward to seeing the results and sharing the findings with the government, Transport for London and the mayor."
It comes as the mayor of London looks at the taxi industry in the capital and formulates new plans governing their operations amid a battle over new regulation in the courts.
Congestion and pollution are likely to be the newest hot button issues that will be considered by Sadiq Khan, according to industry insiders, while former mayor Boris Johnson left the door open for potentially lifting the congestion charge exemption applied to minicabs.
Black cab drivers have largely laid the blame for increasing congestion and pollution on London's roads at Uber's door, citing the increase in numbers of private hire drivers in recent years. Uber claims it is reducing the number of personal vehicles on the road and reducing emissions with its UberPool service, which increases the number of people per vehicle.
Meanwhile, any new black cabs hitting the road will have to be low emission vehicles from 2018 onwards while similar rules will apply to minicabs by 2020 in a drive by Transport for London to get 9,000 zero-emissions cabs on the streets by then.
“This is a step in the right direction. Taxis and the private hire vehicle industry need to commit to phasing out dirty diesel vehicles from their fleets in the most polluted towns and cities across the UK," said Alan Andrews, a lawyer at ClientEarth.