Partnering for emissions-free mobility in Europe

Speakers: Hololei Henrik, Baldwin Matthew, Gippner Olivia, Kubba Joanne, Poliscanova Julia
Moderator: Vancluysen Karen

In mid October 2020, PubAffairs Bruxelles organised an evening of discussion on how public and private stakeholders can cooperate in order to achieve an emission-free mobility model in Europe with Deputy Director-General Matthew Baldwin, DG MOVE, Dr Olivia Gippner, Policy Assistant, Office of the Deputy DG Clara de la Torre, DG CLIMA, Ms Julia Poliscanova, Senior Director, Vehicles and E-mobility, Transport & Environment and Ms Joanne Kubba, Senior Director EMEA Public Policy, Uber.

Director-General Henrik Hololei, DG MOVE held a keynote speech.

The discussion was moderated by Ms Karen Vancluysen, Secretary General of Polis, Cities and Regions for Transport and Innovation.

Ms Karen Vancluysen launched the debate by elaborating on the state of the so-called “mobility renaissance” before the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak by focussing on transport-related innovations, as well as on new services and modes of mobility which have contributed to the evolution of urban traffic. The moderator subsequently described how the emergence of the Covid-19 crisis changed conventional mobility patterns by drawing increasingly more attention to safety risks. This led to a renewed focus on private cars and the adjustment of public transport services, whilst creating awareness with regard to the question of air quality and reduced traffic noise as public concerns. She continued by stating that local administrations adapted rapidly to the new situation by giving shared and active mobility modes more access to public spaces, hence creating a prospect on the future of sustainable urban planning. In the effort of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% in the next decade, the moderator explained, citizens have a significant potential to influence the policy making process towards incentivising affordable and sustainable mobility measures. Ms Vancluysen highlighted that the transport sector is the backbone of the economy, on the one hand, and the only sector with ever increasing emission rates since 1990, on the other hand. She furthermore stressed that innovative mobility concepts should enhance crisis resilience and give full access to clean mobility. Both the economic recovery and the upcoming Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy, she continued, present an opportunity to rethink mobility, foster the uptake of electric vehicles, give new relevance to public transport and create value through shared mobility services. The moderator concluded her remarks by introducing Director-General Henrik Hololei as the evening’s keynote speaker.

Director-General Henrik Hololei opened his keynote speech by describing the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the transport sector as an opportunity to implement new policy initiatives. He followed up on this statement by calling for a reduction of the environmental footprint of the sector according to the measures indicated by the European Green Deal, namely reducing emissions by 90% before 2050. The speaker then raised the question of how innovation can contribute to reaching the climate goals for both the transport and the mobility sectors in the most efficient way. He consequently elaborated on multimodality and the uptake of sustainable mobility and transport solutions, with special regard to innovation, digitalisation and new technologies, which, he added, should be accompanied by regulation, when necessary. While regulation should not be a goal in itself, he continued, it plays a major role in creating incentives for innovation and defines necessary framework conditions. He exemplified this argument by referring to the Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy as the main legislative act of reference. He also emphasised that this strategy will set the path for the EU transport sector to accomplish the twin transition of digitalisation and sustainability while building up enhanced crisis resilience. Furthermore, he stated that digital innovation is expected to support the crisis-affected public transport sector in its recovery, while implementing health and safety measures.

The keynote speaker subsequently shared the idea of how travel information applications could warn the user against crowded public transport and traffic congestion, and facilitate payment services for tickets. This process would require enhanced data sharing from online platforms, the speaker added. He then proceeded by explaining how digitalisation and innovation are crucial elements to improve railway services, a primary aim of the Single European Rail Area. Technical applications have proven to be crucial in facilitating movement of goods and services during the Covid-19 crisis, Director-General Hololei emphasised, citing the example of how rail freight transport was maintained thanks to the electronic cross-border exchange of documents. He then highlighted the reduction of barriers, the implementation of the 4th Railway Package and the opening of markets for competition as crucial measures to foster the shift to rail. The speaker followed up on the same matter by referring to the update to the regulation on technical specification for interoperability (TSI) for telematics applications for passenger services, which has the aim of ensuring the exchange of key data. The new Electronic Freight Transport Information (EFTI) regulation, he explained, enables the digital exchange of commercial consignment information and is recognised by all public authorities. Moving on from this consideration, Director-General Hololei called for open data access and the removal of silos in the transport and mobility sector.

Director-General Hololei proceeded with his remarks by hinting at the increase in active mobility forms such as cycling and walking, which he considered as particularly effective ways of mobility during the Covid-19 crisis. Indeed, Director-General Hololei also highlighted how recent developments in digital innovation contributed to raising awareness of citizens regarding the emission footprint and the impact on their health. Following these remarks, the speaker indicated the need for interoperability of innovative approaches in the transport system. New sharing and micro-mobility concepts must be interoperable in order to make them unfold their full potential for enhancing sustainability, he said. First/Last-Mile solutions, as well as door-to-door journeys for parcel, freight and persons, need to fulfil a complementary function to local public transport, he said. Furthermore, he pointed out how innovative private companies had a valuable impact on the transport on-demand sector, with special regard to taxis and private hire vehicles, while specifying that innovations have also improved customer satisfaction and the supply and demand match efficiency of transport services. However, he also warned against an increase in car traffic since the appearance of ride-hailing platforms and underscored the social conditions of the drivers as an important question to address.

Director-General Hololei subsequently went into detail about the regulatory difficulties these questions are facing in the different EU Member States. Indeed, the variety of rules in several countries adds complexity to the mobility market, he explained. Nonetheless, the European dimension of the issue gains more and more importance as increasingly mobile citizens ask for reliable and safe transport facilities. For this reason, “mobility as a service solutions play a significant role”, he asserted. Moving on from this consideration, the keynote speaker elaborated on the primary role of the EU in transport policy, namely to incentivise and accelerate the transformation of mobility and transport at all levels. In addition, the Director General highlighted how data exchange and reuse between public and private stakeholders have been fostered by the Intelligent Transport System (ITS) directive and are set to contribute to a European Mobility Data Space and the European data economy. He expressed optimism that the Recovery and Resilience Facility, InvestEU and the Solvency Support Instrument are going to provide support by enabling the digital and green transition for the sectors most affected by the crisis. Director-General Hololei brought his keynote speech to a conclusion by stressing the role of national recovery plans of EU Member States in enabling investments in sustainable solutions for urban mobility.

The moderator opened the panel discussion by introducing the speakers and asked how the Corona recovery can be facilitated without compromising the ambitions of the European Green Deal and what role the Sustainable and Smart Mobility strategy can play in accomplishing emission reduction.

Dr Olivia Gippner started her remarks by emphasising that, despite the severe impact of the Corona crisis, climate change is still a major threat. Soaring temperatures, forest fires, rising sea levels, diminishing biodiversity and extreme weather events show the urgency of acting on climate change. She continued by asserting that, even though the world has changed significantly since the announcement of the European Green Deal in 2019, the goal of making Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is more important than ever before. The speaker consequently referred to the 2030 climate target plan, released in September 2020 and aimed at an emission reduction of 55% by 2030.

In response to the question of the moderator, Dr Gippner highlighted the prioritisation of climate objectives in the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 (MFF) and the Next Generation EU in line with the EU’s climate goals and the Paris Agreement. She added that the cost of inaction on climate change is going to be higher in economic, health and environmental terms than having a proactive approach. Despite being the backbone of the European economy, the speaker explained that the transport sector is responsible for a quarter of the bloc’s total emissions, with road transport holding a share of 20%. As a consequence, she stated that the transport sector has to reduce emissions by 90% in order for the EU to reach its 2050 climate neutrality goal.

Dr Gippner subsequently elaborated on the necessary measures for reaching this goal, namely the uptake and production of sustainable alternative fuels, as well as the revision of the CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans by June 2021 and for heavy-duty vehicles by the end of 2022. The speaker continued by referring to the European Climate Pact which aims at engaging the private sector and local authorities to commit to swifter decarbonisation. Companies such as Uber, she emphasised, have direct insights on what is achievable with regard to short-term emission reduction and also make efforts to communicate their progress transparently, a fact which is highly encouraged by the European Commission, Dr Gippner concluded.

Mr Matthew Baldwin from the European Commission answered the question by referring to a core problem of the transport sector as the failure to internalise external costs. According to a study conducted by the University of Delft and published by the European Commission, he quantified the annual external costs of the mobility and transport sector at one trillion euros, 40% of which are constituted by environmental costs, such as emission, air pollution and noise. Furthermore, 30% of these costs are due to road congestion while the remaining 30% are due to road crashes. These figures had particularly resonance in an urban context and the need to reduce our dependence on conventionally fuelled private cars.

Mr Baldwin also described how the Corona crisis has induced society to think again about conventional mobility patterns, especially in terms of spatial use in urban areas. He substantiated this elaboration with some figures regarding the developments in urban traffic which indicate that trips longer than 40 kilometres have decreased by 85% during the Covid-19 crisis in Belgium, while journeys outside the own respective postal code have lowered by 50%. However, he stated, the number of traffic fatalities has not followed the decreasing trend of the overall road traffic and air pollution is back to pre-lockdown levels.Drawing the conclusions of his prior statements, the speaker urged for all mobility modes to become sustainable, particularly in urban areas. Additionally, he raised awareness for sustainable alternatives to conventional transportation and highlighted the need for further incentives for these alternatives. With reference to Dr Gippner’s statement, the speaker of the European Commission emphasised the role of emission reduction of cars in order to reaching the EU’s climate goals.

However, he added, electric or hydrogen cars are not yet sufficiently attractive for citizens as long as there is no effective and widespread charging infrastructure. In this regard, the Commission is thinking about a solution in the form of millions of additional charging points by 2025 in the course of the roll-out of a comprehensive network of recharging and refuelling infrastructure, Mr Baldwin stated. He also indicated that the Commission is reflecting on a revision of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) regulation and concluded his remarks by drawing attention to the initiative “100 climate neutral cities by 2030” that was launched by DG RTD, which had real potential in working with European cities to deliver emission reduction.

Ms Julia Poliscanova opened her speech by highlighting that, even though there has been no progress in the rollout of e-mobility infrastructures until some years ago, the mobility transition has nevertheless occurred at a high pace. Given the context of passenger cars being the largest emitters within the transport sector, the speaker pointed out how emission rates of new cars have continued rising. For example, the high sales of SUVs make this group of cars the second largest global emitter of CO2, she added, and she explained that the car industry missed several windows of opportunities to foster clean technologies.

The speaker exemplified her statements by hinting at the lack of alternatives to cars when it comes to urban traffic and emphasised the need for decarbonising transport in cities. She followed up on her remarks by explaining that e-mobility has experienced a revolution in Europe as a result of the implementation of the regulation on emission reduction targets for new cars. This piece of legislation has caused an unprecedented drop in car emissions from January 2020 on, while sales of electric cars have increased ever since. Moreover, Ms Poliscanova stated that the share of sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars is currently at around 10% and is expected to reach 15% in 2021.

Ms Poliscanova then underscored the importance of reviewing the CO2 emission performance standards in 2021 and called for an update of targets for sales of emission-free cars, as the goal of 15% for 2025 would be reached already by 2021. The speaker additionally shared her views on the electric vehicle market by suggesting that the sales of these cars do not depend on their acceptance by consumers, but rather on the supply of well-performing and adequately-priced car models on the market.

She consequently described how the investment of 60 billion euros in electrification of mobility in 2019 resulted in expanding the product variety of electric cars, which is expected to develop into a market of hundreds of different and more affordable models. While allowing for rides of up to 300 kilometres with one charge, these cars would be priced between 20.000 and 30.000 euro, Ms Poliscanova affirmed. She proceeded by explaining how additional incentives have integrated the prior investment efforts to a major stimulus for the e-mobility market. The speaker concluded her remarks by emphasising that, although the example of Germany indicates that every seventh new car bought is already electric, the solution for urban areas cannot only consist of replacing every combustion car with an electric vehicle.

Ms Joanne Kubba began her remarks by pointing out that Uber had to deal with a decrease of 80% in passenger transport due to the Covid-19 crisis and she explained how digital technologies and the cooperation with local administrations helped in overcoming this challenge. Initiatives such as Uber Medics were put in place in order to adapt to the needs created by the pandemic, while Uber started cooperating with food stores in order to support customers and small businesses alike. “Technology is here to stay”, the speaker stated and highlighted that technological advance can contribute to sustainability in all sectors, as long as it is facilitated by a cooperative approach among the private sector, governments and citizens.

She subsequently drew attention to Uber’s sustainability initiative that fosters the collaboration with cities on emission reduction in order to create value for citizens, drivers and local governments alike. Ms Kubba also elaborated on the multi-stakeholder approach that is leading towards higher transparency within the industry and motivating for change. Ms Kubba concluded her remarks by sharing her opinion that, while the Covid-19 crisis has created a new reality for the citizens in terms of mobility, sustainability should be a priority of the sector after the crisis.

The moderator took on the argument of innovation in technology and asked which role innovation can play in reaching the goals indicated in the EU Climate Law and in supporting the recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

Innovation is key for accomplishing a green recovery, Dr Gippner stated, while reiterating Ms Poliscanova’s stance on the affordability of new technologies in the mobility sector. She subsequently hinted at the regulatory framework for improving the performance and sustainability standards for batteries and the efforts to create a circular battery value chain. The speaker furthermore referred to clean hydrogen as key technology for decarbonising heavy-duty vehicles, for the aviation and the maritime sector, as well. She also remarked that the European Commission is working in close cooperation with the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance on the deployment of this alternative fuel.

Dr Gippner additionally mentioned the Innovation Fund, which is facilitated by the revenues of the EU Emission Trading System, as a relevant tool for financing innovative solutions in the area of emission reduction. Dr Gippner also raised awareness for incentivising best performing fuels as a strategy to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels and create a leading market for decarbonised fuels in Europe. Moving on from this consideration, the speaker highlighted how the transition to emission-free mobility, besides the positive environmental effect, creates economic benefits in the form of new jobs as well. Indeed, the transport sector, battery manufacturing and maintenance services for charging infrastructure are profiting from these new opportunities, while the upskilling of the workforce secures jobs in the car industry, she concluded.

Mr Baldwin replied to the question of the moderator by underscoring the innovative character of the Next Generation EU and the Recovery and Resilience Facility. He elaborated on this topic by giving an overview of the procedure EU Member States have to follow in order to receive the funding provided by both programmes. He consequently described the narrow timeline for Member States to present their national plans for investing the 750 billion euros provided by the mechanism in form of loans and grants. These plans have to aim at fostering the digital and green transitions, the speaker explained, and he added that they need to provide high job intensity as well.

By referring to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s description of the European Green Deal as the EU’s new growth strategy, Mr Baldwin explained that investments should target green projects with a high capacity of employment. This way, the speaker added, the economic recovery and the European Green Deal can become a reality. Although innovation is crucial, he continued, there should also be a focus on what can be accomplished at the current stage and how to adopt temporary measures for long-term solutions. For example, bicycling infrastructure could constitute a very useful green investment that offers a job intensity of 130% in building and maintenance compared to regular road infrastructure.

Mr Baldwin summoned all stakeholders to become bolder regarding investment decisions and concluded his remarks by drawing attention to the expected fleet size of 50 million electric cars on European streets by 2030, while clarifying that the car will remain the preferred mode of mobility outside of urban areas and, for this reason, it requires a widespread and efficient charging infrastructure.

New ways of mobility, such as ride-sharing are critical as alternative to private cars, Ms Poliscanova stated, while adding that mobility options should be taken in consideration as well. Public transport, cycling and walking can indeed reduce congestion in city traffic, she added. Regarding new mobility modes, the speaker clarified that car-sharing models are lagging behind their intended effects in emission reduction as vehicles are still running on fossil fuels. She went into detail about the level of cost-effectiveness that electric cars reached in 2020 by emphasising that, at a driven distance of 20.000 kilometres per year, electric cars are more cost-efficient than combustion vehicles.

Moving on from these considerations, Ms Poliscanova shared her experience from the cooperation with several NGOs across Europe in the effort of electrifying Uber’s fleet and praised Uber’s commitment. She consequently referred to the challenges of both making the private sector commit to electrification of vehicle fleets and aligning the different European regulatory frameworks. Following up on this statement, the speaker asserted the importance of the upcoming Smart and Sustainable Mobility Strategy and called for a better focus on the Clean Vehicles Directive and the expansion of the zero-emission mandates for private vehicle fleets.

Concerning the roll-out of the charging infrastructure, the speaker pointed out that the main focus should be on private charging stations, while the public network can be upheld with just a relatively small number of charging points. She added that this would have to be taken into consideration for the evaluation of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, as well as for future funding efforts. Additionally, Ms Poliscanova hinted at the importance of charging hubs in city centres for ride sharing platforms and called for the simplification of older regulations, such as the “return-to-garage” obligation that is still mandatory in some Member States. This regulation requires ride-hailing providers to stop at home before picking up a new passenger.

She further suggested transforming temporary measures that were implemented during the Covid-19 crisis into permanent solutions, such as pop-up bike lanes and the reconfiguration of space for shared use between different mobility modes. She concluded her remarks by unveiling that urban planning is the main hurdle to the reduction of the number of private cars, as it often does not provide enough space for alternative mobility modes.

Ms Kubba began her statement by referring to Uber’s global sustainability commitment, which was initiated in Europe and is carried out by several stakeholders around the world. She consequently referred to Uber’s report “SPARK! Partnering to electrify in Europe”, which details the company’s efforts in becoming a 50% electric rides platform by 2025 and how Uber is partnering with major European cities to be able to offer fully electric rides in the next five years. The speaker furthermore explained how important a transparent reporting mechanism on CO2 emissions is in fulfilling the aim of emission reduction. However, she also pointed out that this process requires the participation of all relevant stakeholders in order to enhance efforts.

Subsequently, she listed the barriers to achieving a collaborative emission reduction and mentioned the lack of appropriate charging infrastructure, affordability of electric vehicles and of a well-functioning market for second-hand electric cars, as well as insufficient financial incentives in order to close the fine interim cost gap. Ms Kubba then called for adequate policy measures to facilitate the EV transition for Uber drivers, while drawing attention to the exemplary role of cities like Amsterdam and Paris, which offer subsidies on second-hand electric vehicles.

The speaker also raised the issue of lacking incentives in already existing policies and referred to Ms Poliscanova’s example of the “return-to-garage” model that induces a high number of “dead kilometres.” As a consequence, even electric cars would need to be charged the double amount of times, she added. The speaker continued by mentioning the lack of possibilities for slow over-night charging and, with reference to the statements of Mr Baldwin and Ms Poliscanova, she remarked that charging infrastructure has to be positioned strategically in urban areas, rather than just in transport corridors in order to be fit for purpose to ride-sharing platforms. She concluded her remarks by calling for reforms to ride-hailing rules to increase efficiency and facilitate further social protection and benefits for drivers without restricting their flexibility.

The moderator asked for the opinions of the panellists on how to improve partnerships for the green transition and what potential digitalisation bears for the accomplishment of sustainability in the transport sector.

By going back to the matter of the Clean Vehicles Directive, Mr Baldwin assured that legislation on emission reduction is meant to keep track with upcoming developments. Furthermore, he contextualised the review of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive with the TEN-T Directive and also highlighted the relevance of possibly strengthening urban nodes for sustainable urban mobility concepts. In response to the question on partnership, the speaker from the Commission listed two crucial aspects to enable the mobility transition, namely intergovernmental cooperation at all levels and partnerships with stakeholders from the industry, NGOs and the public sector. Mr Baldwin then stressed the lack of data on urban mobility which should be collected to enable sustainable mobility choices of citizens.

Mr Baldwin also raised awareness on the matters of safety in mobility, with similar numbers dying each year globally on the roads as will die in the world this year from the Corona virus. There were 22 000 fatalities a year in the EU on the roads, and as more and more of us are living in towns, road safety was becoming an increasingly urban phenomenon. He then called for a higher protection of users of active mobility modes who constituted 70% of the fatalities in urban areas. He also referred to the State of the Union speech of President von der Leyen which showed how much European public institutions are bringing the question of the green transition to the forefront of their priorities.

Mr Baldwin subsequently defined the Covid-19 crisis as the ultimate stress test for the transport sector and its role in upholding the supply chains of essential goods. He emphasised the importance of investments in the transport sector. As a final argument, the speaker from the Commission hinted at the need for updating contingency programs in order to improve the response to the current crisis and increase Europe’s resilience to future crises.

Ms Kubba shared her opinion on the question of how to facilitate partnerships by describing how constructive exchanges of views between the stakeholders can contribute to finding solutions based on trust. By referring to the Director-General Hololei, the speaker expressed her optimism concerning the upcoming EU-wide regulations on ride-sharing services and stressed her satisfaction with the direction the European Commission is taking in terms of innovation in mobility. “Sharing aggregated and anonymised data is crucial”, Ms Kubba stated, and hinted at a consistent improvement in the quality of this data, resulting from the cooperation with city administrations. With regards to non-urban areas, she stressed the effectiveness of data in further expanding ride-sharing offers into areas with less traffic and a higher dependency on private cars.

On the same topic, the panellist mentioned that demand for ride-sharing in rural areas can be supported by regulation that incentivises the expansion of the service, for example, by creating synergies with public transports. Given that, in her opinion, citizens had adapted to the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the pandemic, she expressed her optimism about Europe’s crisis resilience. The technology industry, as much as other sectors, has to always plan in a long-term perspective to reduce the impact of unpredictable events, Ms Kubba added as a final statement.

Ms Poliscanova began by highlighting how crucial the shared access to data is, particularly between private companies and national authorities. She then proceeded to explain how data can be used by city administrations to compensate gaps in the coverage of urban areas with new mobility solutions. Indeed, new ways of mobility should compete with private cars and not with each other, the speaker asserted.

With respect to the Corona crisis, the speaker stated that it brought an unprecedented opportunity to act on the mobility transition. She subsequently elaborated on this matter by emphasising how the high amount of recovery funding gives governments more control over the direction of investments and with that a unique chance to shape the economy of the future. While the next crisis is not predictable, it is possible to increase crisis resilience by aiming for clean and healthy cities and building up resilient local supply chains, she concluded.

Dr Gippner explained that the prioritisation of upholding the transport of essential goods during the Covid-19 crisis allows drawing conclusions on the existing infrastructure as a crucial feature of the future. Proceeding with her remarks, the speaker warned against the reflex to abandon principles and universal goals in crisis situations. While it was observable that many stakeholders were willing to postpone climate initiatives in order to focus on economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, Dr Gippner expressed relief over the stance taken by the EU to not give up on climate goals.

Furthermore, the crisis offered several opportunities for investment in sustainable projects that were taken up by numerous Member States, as the setup of public incentives for electric vehicles made evident. She continued her elaborations by stating that the private sector has taken on these investments and that the recovery can be reached, while favouring sustainable solutions. The speaker expressed her satisfaction over the increasing number of states that have set their own climate goals and she concluded her remarks by emphasising the EU’s role as a frontrunner in climate action and innovation.

The Q&A session covered the following issues: The availability of funds for transport safety; the lessons from the Covid-19 crisis for coping with the climate crisis; how to improve Europe’s crisis resilience; clean and healthy cities and building up resilient local supply chains; how constructive exchanges of views between the stakeholders can contribute to the discovery of solutions based on trust; the lack of data on urban mobility; the demand for ride-sharing in rural areas; the transport sector’s failure to become self-sufficient in terms of environmental and financial costs; incentives schemes for electric vehicles

Want to know more about the issues discussed in this debate? Then take a look at the selected sources provided below!

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State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary

European Green Deal, European Commission

2030 Climate Target Plan, European Commission

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How COVID-19 Will Shape Urban Mobility, BCG

Recovery plan for Europe, European Commission

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Hydrogen and fuels cells for transport, Euroepan Commission

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Sources from the event co-organisers

Your city. Our promise. Uber will be a zero-emission platform by 2040, Uber

SPARK! Partnering to electrify in Europe, Uber

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[Video] EV Ambassadors: A session with Uber Partner Drivers

[Video] SPARK! report in 10 minutes