Driverless Electric Cabs Will Cut Emissions, Save Bucks: Berkeley Study

Burney Simpson

A new study shows just what Google and Uber are fighting about.

Driverless taxis could mean both lower greenhouse gas emissions and lower costs, according to the study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. However, the study is looking 15 years into the future and assumes electric battery vehicles will be widely used.

The study found that a self-driving, electric taxi in 2030 would produce 90 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) than a 2014 gasoline-powered privately-owned vehicle, and 63 to 82 percent fewer GHG than a 2030 privately-owned vehicle with a hybrid engine.

The study by Berkeley Lab scientists Jeffrey Greenblatt and Samveg Saxena was originally published in Nature Climate Change.

The cost savings would come from operating vehicles without a driver, and from lower fuel and maintenance expenses.

Greenblatt and Saxena made several assumptions when conducting their study of a 2030 taxi fleet.

First, this future fleet would be ‘right-sized’ and made up of much smaller vehicles capable of carrying only one or two passengers.

“Most trips in the U.S. are taken singly, meaning one- or two-seat cars would satisfy most trips,” Greenblatt said. “That gives us a factor of two savings, since smaller vehicles means reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The researchers also assumed that their future fleet would be made up of electric vehicles as that is the most cost-effective engine-type for vehicles driven 40,00 to 70,000 miles a year, typical for a taxi.

Electric vehicles are more expensive to purchase but cheaper to operate over time due to savings on fuel and maintenance.

The researchers estimated that 800,000 driverless electric taxis on the road in 2030 would cut gasoline demand by about 7 million barrels of oil per year, and reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by between 2.1 and 2.4 million metric tons of CO2 per year.

Google has been testing a self-driving vehicle since 2009. Many observers have noted the Google cars have the potential to become taxi-like vehicles and replace the cars that many use today to get to work.

Meanwhile, an Uber executive is reported to have asked electric-vehicle OEM Tesla if it could deliver 500,000 driverless vehicles in 2020. Eliminating the driver could be a major cost savings for cab-industry disruptor Uber.

Photo of Yellow cabs 2010 by Beraldo Leal.

3 replies
  1. joe
    joe says:

    sure…it’ll save money…except the loss of jobs will then in turn flood other markets causing people to not make as much. AUTOMATION IS A BAD IDEA FOR THE FUTURE

    • marty
      marty says:


      Automation has happened before. You don’t see many persons complaining they lost their job to care for the horses of a carriage anymore, do you? This new wave of automation will also create new jobs, (maybe) just not as many as those which were lost in the first place and mainly jobs of a different nature.

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