On September 22, 2021, partner Edward Zaelke moderated a panel on green transportation at the US Embassy in London during the US and UK Climate Change Business Forum, Winning the Race to Zero: Journey to COP26. Panel guests included Richard Currie, Senior Director of Public Affairs for UPS; Jamie Heywood, Regional General Manager, Northern & Eastern Europe for Uber, a representative from a large e-commerce company and Lilli Matson, Chief Safety Health & Environment Officer for Transport for London. The discussion provided remarkable insights into how these three major companies and a forward-looking transportation agency of one of the world’s largest cities are approaching the climate challenge before them. A challenge that Philip T. Reeker, former ambassador of the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, noted in his closing remarks, quoting a proverb, “If you don’t change course, you will likely get to where you are heading.” Steps to change course was the focus of this invitation-only conference and, in the area of green transportation, this panel left the audience with a number of key takeaways.
- What’s abundantly clear is that UPS, Uber and many e-commerce companies are fully committed and have set aggressive goals to have their operations reach net zero carbon or carbon neutrality. For example, Uber seeks to electrify its fleet of vehicles in London by 2025 and in the United States by 2030. The e-commerce company on the panel is a significant purchaser of green power and seeks to achieve net zero carbon by 2040. UPS, which operates delivery vehicles and also runs a fleet of long haul trucks and its own airplanes, has set near-term goals of carbon reduction and a target of being carbon neutral by 2050.
- London is demonstrating a local commitment to climate change that can serve as an example for other cities around the world. Transport for London, which operates the “Tube” subway system (among its other duties), is the largest user of power in London and currently in negotiation for power purchase agreements for renewable power for its operations. In addition to encouraging use of its rapid transit system, the city bought electric buses, required that all new licensed cabs be electric, created clean air zones and congestion zones to encourage electric vehicles and greatly expanded the bike lanes on roadways throughout London.
- Uber, UPS and many e-commerce companies view vehicle electrification for local routes as a key to meeting their climate goals. Uber, with more than 45,000 private commercial drivers in the London area alone, is aggressively meeting the challenge. It has developed an “electric vehicle bank” for each of its drivers, where a portion of each fare goes into a savings account to help the driver replace its present vehicle with an electric vehicle. Uber customers can also request Uber Green at no additional charge. Additionally, since many of its drivers live in the suburbs where less than a third of them have off-street parking, Uber is working with the local government to create on-street charging stations outside the city. UPS and the e-commerce giant on the panel are also focusing on vehicle electrification, with each company having independently invested in a separate electric vehicle manufacturing company and committing to purchasing a significant number of electric vehicles from the manufacturer it is supporting. UPS also recently had a new substation put in place near its primary vehicle yard for charging purposes.
- All three companies on the panel, as well as Transport for London, are heavily committed to what is referred to as “micromobility.” For UPS, this means it can bring packages into a central location and transfer them to walkers, cyclists (electric or non-electric) and scooterists and have its packages delivered or picked up in a carbon-free manner while minimizing road congestion. For Uber, it represents an opportunity to move people using rental electric scooters and electric bikes. While Transport for London banned privately-owned electric scooters, it does permit rental scooters subject to certain speed and other restrictions. In a major city like London where half the residents don’t own cars, the ability to move travelers from public transportation to their places of work or business via rental scooters or bikes is not only a benefit to those who do not own cars, but may also encourage car owners to use public transportation.
- Electrification and micromobility are not the only ways that companies are working to reduce carbon emissions. UPS is looking for ways to reduce carbon in its operation of planes and long haul tucks through the use of cleaner, more efficient jet fuels and renewable natural gas (biomethane)—at least until electrification for those vehicles becomes available.
It was also made clear throughout the forum that progress in carbon reduction requires both a desire and an investment by both private and public sectors working in partnership. What is happening in London with Uber, UPS, e-commerce companies and Transport for London is a great example of how this can work.