Frank Reig is co-founder and CEO of Revel, a Brooklyn-based EV mobility and infrastructure company.
Big U.S. cities are falling behind in the transition to electric vehicles. In New York, the country’s densest city, EVs still only make up around 1% of registered vehicles, and emission reduction targets are therefore at risk. Fortunately, the administration of Mayor Eric Adams has just made New York the world’s first large city to mandate the electrification of the ride-sharing industry with the release of the Green Rides Initiative.
By 2030, the approximately 78,000 ride-sharing vehicles in New York City must be zero-emission EVs (with the exception of wheelchair-accessible vehicles). Mayor Adams is right to make this sector the first mover. While representing under 2% of the cars on the city’s roads, ride-sharing vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate 600,000 tons of carbon emissions every year.
In a relatively short amount of time, Mayor Adams’ plan will eliminate the outsized emissions from ride-sharing for the benefit of all New Yorkers. The mandate will also deliver much-needed savings to ride-sharing drivers through reduced fueling and maintenance costs. But perhaps most important, it’s a playbook other mayors nationwide can replicate.
That’s not to say it will be an easy task to achieve in six years. Vehicle electrification faces a chicken-and-egg problem in big cities. Many drivers are hesitant to switch to EVs due to insufficient access to reliable charging, yet without widespread EV adoption, charging providers can’t justify the steep costs of urban development on scarce viable real estate. This creates a massive barrier to adoption. In these dense cities, where the vast majority of residents lack at-home charging, public charging solutions are essential.
Ride-sharing electrification will help New York City catch up. While a private consumer’s EV might charge fully once per week, a ride-sharing EV that puts on over five times more annual miles has to charge every day. Spurring the electrification of these vehicles will not only encourage construction of more charging infrastructure, it will specifically encourage the most attractive kind to all drivers: fast charging.
Ride-sharing drivers need a charge that takes minutes, not hours, so they can quickly return to the road and earn fares. The convenience of fast charging is also what most city dwellers will want access to before they commit to an EV. By establishing a clear source of demand for fast charging via the ride-sharing industry, cities can lay the foundational infrastructure that will lead to all vehicle electrification.
Revel, the company I co-founded, is working to unlock the fast charging rut in New York. By ushering in the country’s first all-electric ride-sharing fleet, we’ve been able to provide guaranteed use for our own public fast charging network while consumer demand remains small. What started with a modest 50 EVs in 2021 is now a fleet of 500 all-electric cars operated by 1,200 employee drivers. In our first two years, Revel completed just over 1 million rides, with Senate Majority Leader — and Brooklyn native — Chuck Schumer hailing the millionth. Those rides translate to more than 4 million pounds of CO2 offset.
Also in those two years, we’ve put 40 public fast chargers in the ground and plan to install hundreds more in the next year. But to support the full electrification of the ride-sharing industry, New York will need many thousands of them. The Green Rides Initiative is exactly the incentive required to make that buildout happen at scale.
New York’s plan is on a compressed timeline, but so, too, is the need to curb emissions and prevent their worst effects from taking hold of the next generation. That same urgency demands other big cities — especially ones with large ride-sharing markets like Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. — not wait until 2030 to see whether New York achieves its goal. Instead, mayors should follow New York’s leadership and immediately begin adapting these regulations to their own cities’ unique landscapes. Electrification is a lasting legacy, and now is the time to claim it.