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New York’s Rideshare Cars Are Returning To The City’s Electric Roots

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There was a time when combustion-powered cars didn’t make any sense in New York. In fact, back in 1898, when the city’s first cab service got started, EVs ruled the roads. The Electric Carriage and Wagon Company (ECWC) ran from 1898 until 1907, and in that time it got the United States’ first speeding ticket and was also involved in the first pedestrian fatality. Sadly, 300 of the company’s cars were burnt in a fire, and then the Panic of 1907 hit, causing the company to collapse.

Sadly, the company was replaced by a number of other companies, nearly all running gas-powered vehicles. Like the rest of the US automobile industry, that wouldn’t change for almost 100 years, when the city started requiring hybrid or electric cabs.

During that time, the for-hire car industry in New York went through many changes. It was initially mostly unregulated, but later limits were placed on the number of cabs, becoming the Medallion System we see today. In recent years, the emergence of rideshare vehicles caused a lot of trouble for the more heavily-regulated cabs, but these in turn were subjected to limits, first with exemptions for EVs, but later limited entirely when too many EV owners signed up.

Now, the city is going to return rideshare cars to the city’s electric past, requiring all rideshare vehicles to be fully electric by 2030. Mayor Eric Adams of New York City, along with Commissioner David Do of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), recently unveiled the “Green Rides” rule. This groundbreaking regulation mandates that the rideshare fleet in the city must transition to either zero-emission or wheelchair accessible vehicles by 2030. The rule was unanimously approved by the TLC, highlighting its importance and commitment to a sustainable transportation future.

“With the passage of this historic rule and the immediate release of electric vehicle licenses, we are delivering on a promise made to New Yorkers earlier this year and hitting the road towards a more sustainable and accessible future,” said Mayor Adams. “At the other end of this trip is a greener, more inclusive city with healthier air, a cleaner environment, and more economic opportunities for working-class New Yorkers. I’d like to thank all the commissioners at TLC for embracing this bold initiative and making sure New York City continues to lead the nation in sustainable innovation.”

Under the new regulation, high-volume for-hire services in the city (Uber and Lyft) which currently operate a combined fleet of approximately 78,000 vehicles will be required to allocate 100 percent of their trips to either zero-emission vehicles or wheelchair accessible vehicles by 2030. The rule establishes yearly milestones, starting in December 2024, with a mandate that 5% of rideshare trips must be serviced by either zero-emission or wheelchair accessible vehicles (this benchmark has already been met). By the end of 2025, this requirement will increase to 15%, followed by 25% by the end of 2026, and an additional 20% each subsequent year until 2030.

According to the mayor’s office, the city isn’t going to hope for the best when it comes to charging. The city has plans to install many new charging stations for taxis and rideshare drivers, especially DC fast chargers (Level 3). They’re also hoping that the requirement inspires the private sector to build more EVs and charging infrastructure, and they point out that Revel alone has already planned to triple the available L3 chargers.

“This gradual, measured transition will benefit the environment, the city’s rideshare drivers, and anyone needing an accessible vehicle,” said TLC Commissioner Do. “It is designed to ensure that electric vehicles can join the fleet in tandem with the development of charging infrastructure and price-parity with gas-powered vehicles. Simultaneously, it reinforces our commitment to accessibility.”

In order to support the Green Rides initiative, the TLC has decided to lift the temporary suspension on new licenses for electric for-hire vehicles. This decision comes in response to the overwhelming demand for the 1,000 electric licenses that were released in March, which were claimed within two minutes. Additionally, the TLC’s recent For-Hire Vehicle License Review study on the impact of the number of TLC-licensed vehicles further influenced this decision. Starting the day after the announcement, interested and qualified parties had the opportunity to obtain electric vehicle licenses, similar to the current availability for wheelchair accessible vehicles. This change will also be in effect for the foreseeable future.

“While others make suggestions, Mayor Adams and the TLC are taking action. The Green Rides initiative and new EV licenses will put New York City on the forefront of EV adoption. Other cities should take note of the environmental and public health victory that was won today,” said Frank Reig, co-founder and CEO of Revel. “As a Brooklyn-born company, Revel is proud to provide the city’s only all-electric, all-employee rideshare service, and to be building the public fast charging infrastructure — in the South Bronx, Harlem, Maspeth, Red Hook and more — that will make electrification of New York’s entire rideshare industry possible.”

This Should Face Fewer Headwinds Than The EV Industry At Large

Naysayers will probably point at the economic and demand headwinds that the EV industry is facing right now, with a number of companies cutting back production goals in response. But, the conditions rideshare drivers work under (particularly in New York) is wildly different than the average car buyer. Local stop-and-go city driving tends to allow much better efficiency, for one. Another big advantage is that maintenance is a lot more important for high-mileage vehicles, and EVs suffer from fewer maintenance costs.

Another important difference for New York’s rideshare drivers is that fares and driver pay are both regulated. In other markets, it’s harder to predict earnings, meaning that drivers could end up in trouble with a car payment. For New York’s drivers, predictable and relatively high pay take more of the risk and guesswork out of that.

Finally, rural infrastructure (a big challenge for the whole industry) is generally not a concern for rideshare EVs. As long as local and regional infrastructure is decent, nobody driving a rideshare car is going to be like, “What about a trip to New Mexico?”

Featured image provided by the City of New York.


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