Pacific research institute zev bill would hurt ridesharing drivers, do little to help environment electricity consumption

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On any given day, tens of thousands of Californians are earning good money driving for Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing companies. For many, the gig economy has been a windfall. Glassdoor.com says the average annual salary for a Lyft driver in Los Angeles is $36,000, while Uber drivers average about $27,000 and can make up to $44,000.

But never underestimate California policymakers’ ability to increase the cost of doing business in this state. The independent contractors who literally mobilize the ridesharing industry could be required to buy new vehicles in the next five years, even if there’s nothing wrong with the cars they’re driving. The cost will force some out of the business altogether.

California’s unhealthy obsession with carbon dioxide emissions has produced Senate Bill 1014, also known as E-CAr. It would require that 20 percent of the passenger miles traveled via “transportation network companies” will be “provided by zero-emission vehicles by December 31, 2023, and 50 percent of the passenger miles will be provided by zero-emission vehicles by December 31, 2026.”

Electric cars are a rich person’s toy. A study released earlier this year by PRI’s Wayne Winegarden found that 79 percent of electric vehicle plug-in tax credits were claimed by households with incomes greater than $100,000 per year, and 99 percent were claimed by households with incomes greater than $50,000.

Few, if any, Uber and Lyft drivers make more than $100,000 a year picking up and dropping off passengers. They tend to be part-time drivers supplementing other income. How are they going to afford to buy new cars that cost roughly $10,000 more each than their conventional fossil-fuel powered equivalents? The cheapest electric vehicle, according to U.S. News & World Report, is the Smart Electric Drive, which is suited for rideshare duty about as well as a kayak is. It seats only two, including the driver, and has an EPA-estimated range of 58 miles. And at nearly $24,000, it would consume almost all of the average Los Angeles Uber driver’s annual income.

The response among drivers is both predictable and understandable. Reactions on the forum UberPeople.net ranged from calling the bill “typical California stupidity,” to insulting lawmakers’ intelligence, to bewilderment over how drivers will pay for the new cars.

“Uber and Lyft drivers make so much money we should be required to buy electric cars for our family and neighbors too,” quipped one Los Angeles driver. Another who operates of out Pasadena complained that government is a “shill for electric car companies.”

Once again, California policymakers are peddling legislation that hurts those who can least afford it. And once again, California policymakers are making yet another futile gesture. The bill’s author Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, rationalizes SB 1014 as a means to protect the climate. But it will have no impact whatsoever on global temperatures. Even if the state cut carbon dioxide emissions by 100 percent, the climate would be unaffected. California produces only 1 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, not enough to make a difference.

Policymakers know this. So, they justify their legislative excesses by assuring us that their efforts will inspire other states to restrict CO2 emissions. But that argument doesn’t hold up. University of Alabama-Huntsville climate researcher John Christy told Congress in 2015 that if the country fully eliminated fossil fuel emissions, the “effect would be between five- and eight-hundredths of a degree.”

SB 1014, which has moved through two Senate committees and is awaiting action in the Appropriations Committee, is nothing more than yet another exercise in legislative virtue-signaling. As the one Uber driver complained, this is “typical California” — the state where real problems go unsolved, and too often unacknowledged, as imaginary ones are attacked with a reckless fury.