Electric, self-driving taxis might not be the answer to our climate problems that many people think, a new study finds.

Why it matters: Transportation is the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which is one reason that the Biden administration is pushing for a rapid shift to electrification.

What they’re saying: “While electric vehicles themselves have lower emissions than traditional gasoline-powered ones, our work shows that deploying electric robocabs en masse on America’s streets could actually increase the number of trips, miles driven and overall emissions,” says Harvard law professor Ashley Nunes, the study’s lead author.

What they did: By studying data from San Francisco, Nunes’ team concluded that the convenience of ubiquitous fleets of robotaxis would increase demand for rides, generating more trips and more vehicle miles traveled — erasing the electric vehicles’ environmental benefits.

Key takeaway: To avoid worsening emissions, electric robotaxis would need to be 55% cleaner than today’s EVs — or people need to stop riding solo, the study concluded.

Yes, but: The pandemic has soured people on ride-pooling, Nunes acknowledges, which means robocabs must reduce their carbon footprint even more.

What’s needed: The researchers offered several policy recommendations, including:

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