Electric vehicles are the wave of the future – there can be little doubt of this. Adoption rates are increasing exponentially, with federal and state governments doing everything in their power to expedite this transition. Given the amount of miles driven by vehicles used commercially, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that commercial vehicles (especially large vehicles such as semi-trucks, buses, and delivery vehicles) stand to positively impact climate change as much or more than smaller passenger vehicles. I have used 2 vehicles over the past 3 years to operate my rideshare and private transportation businesses, a 2019 Chevrolet Bolt (which I still have) and the aforementioned 2018 Tesla Model 3 Long Range RWD. Having just sold my Model 3, I thought it prudent and useful to provide a detailed and honest evaluation of my time with the vehicle in relation to how it functioned and performed for me in a commercial capacity.
The Model 3 truly is a remarkable vehicle that forever changed the electric vehicle landscape with its introduction in 2017. Even though the Model Y has since raced past it in popularity due to America’s obsession with (don’t even get me started) crossovers, it’s been the best selling EV in the world for multiple years running, and it’s easy to see why. Prior to the rampant inflation and price increases of the past 18 months, the Model 3 was a relatively affordable EV (especially when it still qualified for the $7500 federal rebate) that offered outrageous efficiency, engaging driving dynamics, along with industry leading tech and storage practicality not typically found in a compact sedan. All of these attributes still hold today, minus the affordability aspect as the base model now sits at $50k with no Federal Rebate. It appears this may return with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act, but getting into the weeds of EV rebates is not my focus here.
The lure of an electric vehicle for a commercial driver should be fairly apparent. The obvious on the nose reason is energy (fuel) savings. Let’s dive into the math of what this really means for a commercial rideshare driver. Where I live in the Seattle area, we pay about 12 cents per kwh (kilowatt hour) for our electricity if you are able to charge your car at home. We do not have peak vs. non-peak charging rates here regarding the time of day, but rather usage tiers in which you pay more once you cross certain thresholds. Most households will not cross into the higher usage tiers without running a welding business in the garage or an indoor horticulture business in the basement, so we’ll go with 12¢/kwh for our analysis. The battery pack for my particular Model 3 was 75 kilowatts, with about 70 kilowatts being usable. This is the size of the “gas tank”. So how much is it to fill er’ up and how far can we go? One answer is simple, the other is not.
The answer to the first question is about $8.40. You can’t get much for $8.40 these days, but you can charge your Tesla! We arrive at this number by simply taking the 70kw capacity of the battery and multiplying it by the cost of electricity. (70kw battery pack) x (.12¢ per kwh) = ($8.40). Ok, so how far can you go on $8.40 and what mpe(e) will you get?
Assuming a gasoline price of $5.00/gallon, this means in theory (more on this shortly) my Model 3 was achieving a whopping 193mpg(e), or miles per gallon equivalent! I got this number by taking $8.40 (cost of electricity to fill the car) and dividing it by $5.00 (price of 1 gallon of gas) to get 1.68. This is the number of gallons it would take to fill the Tesla's “Tank.” Taking the stated range of 325 miles and dividing it by 1.68, we get an MPGe of roughly 193.
193mpg?! That’s basically free! True, 193mpg is truly amazing. I have some bad news though. You’ll NEVER get that. I’m sorry, that’s a bit hyperbolic and I may have overreacted. It’s extremely UNLIKELY you will ever approach this number unless you are a “civilian” (non-commercial driver for our purposes) 7k miles a year driver who lives in a year-round warm climate (Vegas, LA, Miami, etc) and most of your driving occurs off the freeway.. That’s a lot of qualifiers. Why is this? Several reasons are to blame.
1. EVs have substantially less range in cold weather.
Why? I’ll give you my 5th grade science explanation. It’s related to the conductivity of the cells within the battery. The following graph provided by GeoTab (https://www.geotab.com/blog/ev-range/) makes this pretty clear:
As you can see, 68℉ is the sweet spot of EV range efficiency with an estimated gain of 15-20% over stated range. So, if you’re lucky enough to live in San Diego where it’s 75℉ every day and you never have to turn on any form of climate control unless you want to, an EV makes a whole lot of sense. If however you live in a cold weather city where ¼ to ½ of the year is spent at temperatures below 50℉, you’ve got a rude awakening coming when it comes to your range. In Seattle where I live, we have a very temperate climate that usually (usually) doesn’t get too extreme one way or the other. However, our winter months are still a bit brisk, especially in the mornings. If you are a civilian and commuting 20 miles to work, this doesn’t make a hill of shit of difference to you since you won’t come close to exhausting the range of an EV in any month of the year let alone the cold ones. It’s quite a different story though if you plan to use your EV commercially. A 20% reduction in range is an enormous shit burger to have to eat in a profession (rideshare/delivery/livery) where the only thing that matters is how efficiently you use your time and resources to make money. Look even further down the graph. If you plan to use your EV commercially and you reside in Minneapolis/Chicago/Boston/NYC/DC etc, you are looking at a 30-40% penalty in range, and this doesn’t begin to tell the whole story since of course you’ll want (have to?) have some heat on so you and your passengers don’t freeze to death. What a nice transition into the next range killing aspect of EVs:
2. Using your Climate Control Systems
Using the heating and air conditioning systems in your EV has a real cost to it. If you’ve driven gasoline cars all your life, it can be easy to forget or not notice just how much energy it takes to create hot or cold air. In gasoline vehicles, cabin heat is often created through a waste process of recycling the heat runoff created by the engine back through the cabin. It’s not entirely free, but you are definitely capturing some economy through this process. Air conditioning is a bit different in that cold air must be created organically in either gasoline or EVs. We all know that using AC in our cars reduces fuel economy by up to 20%. We just don’t care about this in gasoline cars because the total driving range is so much longer than EVs (many hybrid cars now boast over 600 miles of total driving range) along with gasoline being much more readily available and convenient than EV Charging. Energy creation is metabolically expensive in both EV and gasoline vehicles, but you are acutely more aware of it in an EV when you see your range falling faster than the net worth of Sam Bankman-Fried. Tesla also does a sneaky little thing where they don’t update your projected range when you have your climate control on, meaning that the range you see currently is nowhere near the range you will actually get. Now for the knockout punch:
3. Highway Driving vs. City Driving
As a full-time commercial driver, you will of course have a very mixed bag of driving demands placed on you by your customers. In my experience, to make a full-time income at rideshare it is necessary to combine several different types of trips and driving times. A full-time driver will often need to couple early morning or late night airport trips (primarily high-speed highway driving during times of low traffic and high customer demand) with around town driving during the commutes or party scene hours. My business has been heavily skewed towards airport trips in recent years since these customers tend to tip at a much higher rate and much, much more importantly don’t typically include drunken Gen Y/Millennial shitbags who are 1 speed bump away from vomiting all over your business (car). It’s also not a secret that rideshare/taxi drivers may drive over the speed limit from time to time, especially when speeding is actually the best ROI that we get on anything. (It’s true.) I find it to be pretty hard not to drive 70-75 mph on a freeway when given the opportunity to do so, and judging by how many of you still seem to pass me like Beyonce is giving out free old fashioneds just off the next exit, you obviously feel the same. High speed driving means less range, just the same as it means less mpg in gasoline cars. Adding these first 3 reasons together brings us to the following inescapable and undeniable truth for commercial EV drivers:
If you are doing airport runs in cold/hot weather, using your Heat/AC, and consistently driving over 70mph, expect to see AT LEAST a 30% reduction in range.
I’ve noticed about a 40% penalty during cold weather months here in Seattle with my driving style. If I drove in the Kamikaze-I-want-to-die-today style like the cab drivers I see around me, I’d probably be closer to 50%, even more in a legit cold-weather city. You get the point. It’s all downhill from stated range totals when you start adding in real-world driving styles/demands/conditions. So now our 325 mile range has shrunk to 200 real world miles. Yikes. That’s not all though folks. In reality, your usable range is about 150 because of…….
4. Charging Stations Ain't Everywhere
You just can’t push the limits of how long you can wait to fill up with an EV like you can with a gas vehicle. Range anxiety is something entirely different than being low on gasoline is, exponentially more so for commercial drivers since if you brick (run out of juice) your EV, your ability to earn is over and now you are standing knee deep in buffalo shit. Besides being incredibly embarrassing, bricking an EV is not a readily rectifiable situation like running out of gas is. Sure, running out of gas is no picnic either, but there is no hoofing it to the gas station and coming back with an emergency “gallon of electricity” for an EV. Not only have you lost the ability to earn, but you’re also going to be on the hook for a massive tow bill depending how far you are from a charging station or home. I haven’t had a car towed in a long time, but it was $150 to have my car towed 5 miles in 2002 when I was in college. I can only imagine what these knuckle-dragging Duck Dynasty three tooth bridge trolls known as towing companies charge in 2022. Has anyone in the history of the world ever gotten a tow bill and thought, “That seems reasonable. I’m super glad that 2-time felon Jethro McGee was here to help me out.” I doubt it.
Story Time kids. I haven’t actually bricked one of my EV’s, but I sure came awful close once. One busy weekend night in my Model 3 it was about 10:45 pm and I had about 48 miles of range left. Not scraping the bottom but definitely time to start thinking about getting some juice. I’m in downtown Seattle near the stadiums in a time/location “kill zone” (area of high demand/surge pricing) for earnings. At this time I did not have the destination benefit that Lyft now offers, so I’m driving blind like most rideshare drivers have to do. I have a $15 bonus attached to my next ride, which of course you have to accept and complete to receive. I don’t know what the actual stats on this would be, but in that scenario you have to have a well above 90% chance that your next ride will only be a few miles or less, and a high 90’s % chance of the ride being less than 20 miles. Don’t quote me, I’ve just given 15,000 rides and real world experience tells me those numbers are accurate. I get a ping for a group of drunkies near the stadium. Perfect! I’m going to get a $15 bonus to take these scarf wearing soccer fan dunderheads to some bar .7 miles up the street so they can rehash all of the thrilling action from the nil-nil pillow fight they just watched. That’s the way it goes 95% of the time anyways. Oops. They are going somewhere 28 miles away. It’s a monster ride with a $15 bonus attached to it, probably in the neighborhood of $75 to me upon completion. Enter range anxiety. Even with climate control on, I know that I’ve got enough juice to complete the ride. The real concern is what I’m going to do afterwards. Ride goes fine, but at the end of it my estimated range is…9 miles. The nearest Tesla charger is 6.5 miles away. This is the major leagues of range anxiety. I’m on the outskirts of the county in the middle of the night in freezing cold weather (temperatures dropping of course further affecting range) not knowing whether I’m going to be able to make it to the Tesla charger or not. Right about now I’m feeling like Ben Simmons at the free throw line in the 4th quarter. This is going to be close, knowing that my 9 mile range estimate is just that – an estimate. If I brick this thing out here my entire evening's earnings are toast. The next half hour proceeded to see me creep and crawl (freezing to death with no heat on mind you) to the supercharger as slowly as conditions would allow for. Thankfully it was late at night without much traffic, so I was able to inch along at 10-15 mph on backroads and pull over as necessary to let cars pass. The anticlimactic end to this story is that I indeed did make it to the Supercharger. I don’t recall if the range at the end said 3 miles left, SuperDuperLow, ChargeMeYouTeslaDouchebag or any variant thereof, but I don’t think I could have made it more than another 2 miles. This charging station wasn’t even one of Tesla’s faster ones, so it still took me about 30 minutes to get back to a level of range that I was comfortable driving home.
Hearing that story someone could logically conclude that I 100% put myself in that situation and any consequences endured by me were completely deserved. I would agree with you to a point. I did push the range to the absolute limit, however the larger point I would like to illuminate here is that rideshare drivers are often forced to make difficult choices when it comes to their ability to maximize earnings. I suppose the ultra prudent hall monitor irons his underwear approach would have been to go offline when I reached the 50 mile range level. I would have absolutely paid an opportunity cost of $40-70 in doing this. It would taken at least an hour to drive to a charger, charge, and then return to a prime earning area. At that time of night in downtown Seattle on the weekend rideshare drivers should expect to earn at least $40 an hour with bonuses and tips factored in. Here is something to note as well that may not be readily apparent to the rideshare customer. Rideshare driver earnings are not linear. What I mean by this is that overall I do more than fine when it comes to my average hourly earnings, but not all hours are the same. To get to an average gross earnings rate of $40/hr, there are a lot of $20 hours mixed with $60 hours. I often use the analogy of Texas Holdem. If you’ve ever played Holdem, you know that at times it seems like all you are getting for 2 hours straight is 3-9 offsuit. Then, you wake up with AA and QQ within 5 hands of each other and drag 2 huge pots. Rideshare isn’t a whole lot different. Unless you work in the exact same area and the exact same times for every shift, hourly earnings are highly variable. You have to average in the airport ride and rematch (getting matched with a customer at the airport after dropping off your current one) $75 hour mixed in with the (1) $5 minimum ride hour that preceded it to get your average of $40/hr. If you make $300 in a day of driving, your hourly earnings distributions are much more likely to look like this:
($17, $48, $41, $32, $51, $13, $20, $28, $50)
($33, $35, $31, $36, $40, $28, $37, $32, $28)
All of that background was given to show there really wasn’t a decision to be made in the first place. I HAD to take that ride. If I didn’t and ended my night prematurely to avoid having to fast charge, my hourly average (and real world checking account balance) would have taken an $8/hr torpedo to the belly of my ship. If you want to play devil’s advocate and say that time and probability is continuous and a $70 ride is as likely to be there later as it was in that moment, your argument wouldn’t be completely without merit. However in the real world when you’ve already been out grinding for (x) amount of hours and the mortgage is still due on the 1st and you’re sitting on a $15 bonus, you’re going to take the ride.
Just to be clear, the premise of this article is not to trash EVs and advocate that everyone continue on with their Prius. Gross. You should abandon your Prius like a business trip lovechild for a whole host of other reasons that we don’t need to get into here. Rather, it is to provide a nuanced and contextualized account of one driver’s real world experience using an EV exclusively to make money. If you are a station-to-station driver who works during the day (warmer temperatures) and doesn’t do much deadheading (driving miles without passengers usually to return to a higher earning zone), an EV couldn’t be a more ideal choice for you. Your driving style is highly efficient in terms of dollars earned per mile driven and likely includes a fair amount of non-highway driving which as previously mentioned is the absolute wheelhouse of EV efficiency. I’ve often said with my Bolt that if all I ever did was give Chase/Tucker/Caitlynne/Chance/Madison and Hailee rides from a bar on Queen Anne to a bar on Capitol Hill, I’d never run out of range with Seattle’s hills and the Bolt’s regenerative braking capacity. EV efficiency on point to point short distance trips is nothing short of outrageous. I sometimes joke with my other rideshare buddies that I can earn $100 before I’ve spent $1 worth of electricity. (It’s true, try that with gasoline! Ain’t happening.) I don’t do a lot of that kind of driving though for reasons already mentioned. All of these factors and experiences ultimately led me to make the following decision:
I sold my Model 3 because it wasn’t the right tool for me and how I run my business.
With my business being so highly skewed towards outgoing airport rides at night and incoming airport rides in the morning, having to constantly worry about range and charging combined with the time related opportunity cost of going offline during peak earnings hours proved to ultimately outweigh the energy and maintenance savings of an EV for me. As the world moves forward on our march towards higher and higher adoption rates of EVs, both battery capacity (range) and access to public charging resources are going to increase dramatically. Having the combined tailwinds of the private sector profit motives of EV manufacturers and massive, sustained funding programs from the federal government will ensure no other outcome. Yet as we approach 2023 EVs continue to be both prohibitively expensive and hard to get. Uber does operate their Tesla rental program, but these cars are a grain of sand on the beach compared to the Prius army. It’s also an extremely predatory program. If Uber and Lyft offer anything to drivers, you can be rest assured it only benefits Uber/Lyft. The other inconvenient truth of gig app workers is that almost none of them are homeowners, especially full-timers. This matters because to truly maximize the value proposition of an EV, you need to be able to charge at home during your off hours at the lower municipal power rate. Even the newest and most modern apartment complexes offer woeful access to Level 2 (240v) charging, with any complexes over 5 years old coming in at a big fat ZERO. Having to exclusively fast charge your EV in public is not only expensive, but also a giant pain in the ass when there is perfect availability of chargers, let alone having to wait for one! Last but not least is the straw that ultimately broke my electric powered camel’s back:
Fast Charging your EV in Seattle at night is not safe.
An underrated but not insignificant drawback to not having access to charging where you live is the safety factor of public fast charging. Even for drivers like myself lucky enough to have charging at their homes, there is no getting around the fact that you are going to have to use public fast charging stations on a near daily basis if you are a full time driver. I can’t speak for other cities, but Seattle is not a safe place to be parked at night. Our city is infested with “unhoused”, mentally ill, drug addicted zombies who wander the streets trying car doors and prowling vehicles and businesses looking for anything to steal and sell. Property crimes have skyrocketed in Seattle since the beginning of covid, with vehicle prowls being the lowest of low hanging fruits. I would no more sit at the Electrify America station on Capitol Hill at 2:30am to charge my car than I would walk into the Kremlin with a Support Ukraine t-shirt on. I have had my car messed with multiple times over the years while parked waiting for a ride by the fentanyl zombies of Seattle. It’s a startling experience to say the least, made worse by the fact you’ll get no help whatsoever from Seattle’s understaffed (and unmotivated) police force if you do have a real incident. It’s just not smart or safe for an EV driver to charge anywhere but their house or during the daytime in public. It’s completely fair to say that gas stations are also mosquito lamps for the bottom 1% of society, but you can get gas in 5 minutes and be on your way again. Sitting for 30-60 minutes to fast charge your car in the middle of the night in Seattle is akin to putting out the “shithead bat signal” and saying please come fuck with my car and/or rob and kill me. No thank you.
The conversation around using EV’s for rideshare is getting to be almost theoretical anyways due to the extreme shortage of available, economically priced EVs.
Translation: You can’t get them, and if you can, they’re expensive. Once you have it, there still aren't enough places to charge them.
There are really only 2 affordable EV’s on sale currently in the United States that have any sort of range that could be considered usable to the commercial driver: the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf, and I’m only loosely including the Leaf because of it’s pathetic range. Many of these other EVs claim to have starting prices around 40k, but good luck actually getting one for that. I have a better chance of waking up with 9% body fat tomorrow than you do of getting an EV6 for $39k. At this moment in time EVs are still largely virtue signaling, ego-boosting toys of the upper-middle class and above. I say this as someone who is self-aware enough to admit I bought my Tesla as much for the "fuck you" factor as a tool to help me in my business.
Commercial adoption rates of EVs will lag far behind the general public due to the income demographics of the people who will use them and the unrelenting demands that commercial drivers will place on them. Uber has the best of all worlds in that they have the ability to make a large scale fleet purchase but don't actually have to incur any of the operating expenses related to providing charging infrastructure like a small scale company would. They can prey on drivers who don't have the means or financial intelligence to acquire a vehicle any other way. Joe's Plumbing Company can't do this since they have to operate within the profit motive and monetary outlays have to make sense in the moment unlike Uber who continues to burn through investor cash faster than Charlie Sheen through a snow mogul of coke.
Bottom Line: Until they start making a whole lot more EVs in an affordable price range with ample places to charge them quickly, your next Uber will still likely be the same dented and scraped up Prius that you’ve always gotten.