It’s not surprising that New York City’s recently unveiled Green Rides program is causing considerable angst for professional drivers and industry advocates. According to the mandate, which will be voted on by the TLC next month, “Starting in 2024, the city will require 5% of all HVFHV (high-volume for-hire vehicle) trips, including those with Uber and Lyft, to be dispatched to zero-emission vehicles or wheelchair accessible vehicles – with that benchmark rising to 15% in 2025 and 25% in 2026. As the market evolves and electric vehicle (EV) prices become more affordable, the requirements will increase yearly by 20% points until the end of the decade, reaching 100% in 2030.”

As I’ve stated in the past, I am an EV owner and fully support the idea behind the program, but looking at the current electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure, the near-certainty that there will be additional upfront costs, the uncertainty over repair options and insurance rates, and the history of broken promises and blunders made by the city over the years, it’s no wonder people are feeling anxious.

It doesn’t help that everyone’s heads are still spinning from the city’s goal to initiate a massive congestion pricing plan next year, with so much still up in the air. And considering the fact that congestion pricing in NYC was first brought up more than 15 years ago, 2030 suddenly doesn’t seem all that far off.

The city has said it wants to “ensure every New Yorker lives within 2.5 miles of an electric vehicle charging station by 2035.” Is that possible? I guess. But it kind of sounds like a pipe dream as we sit here, about to enter the fourth quarter of 2023.

To their credit, the TLC seems to be doing everything possible to assuage fears, laying out what – in the best of all possible worlds – could very well be a reasonable timeline. The newly proposed rules, which were discussed at the TLC’s Sept. 20 hearing, provided a roadmap for achieving its goals, with yearly benchmarks that the city is calling “practical, implementable and designed to ensure a smooth and efficient transition.” TLC Chair David Do importantly added that the TLC can adjust timelines, if obstacles arise. But those assurances get lost in the messaging when you’re talking about transitioning nearly 80,000 vehicles and adding some 40,000 new EV chargers citywide. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, considering there are currently only 2,500 EVs in the city’s massive FHV fleet (about 3%).

At the TLC’s Sept. 20 hearing, drivers and industry advocates reflected many of the same concerns I have about the new mandate – and added a few I hadn’t even considered. Here are some of the most salient points made by industry advocates and drivers at the hearing, along with questions that remain unanswered:

  • It can take months to get replacement parts after an accident or a necessary repair on a Tesla, which is currently the most popular EV on the road. Can the TLC create temporary plates during repair times? What if there are no available EVs to plate, or what’s available is prohibitively expensive?
  • Any additional EV licenses should first go to individual drivers.
  • SUVs and vans are often necessary to comfortably move larger groups of people, but the availability of those types of EVs are practically non-existent.
  • A large percentage of drivers live in apartment buildings, where “home charging” will remain a major issue well beyond 2030.
  • Drivers will be forced to take their vehicles to dealerships for repairs, rather than local shops, which generally charge much less for maintenance.
  • Many NYC chargers are currently “out of order,” although they are still listed as viable by apps meant to help EV owners find one. This can be a serious problem for drivers frantically searching for a plug as their charge runs low.
  • Should a driver who is planning to retire in six or seven years be forced into what could be an expensive transition?
  • Even if the city fulfills its promise of massively expanding its EV charging network, this doesn’t account for other states. What if a driver has a long trip into a neighboring state or beyond?
  • Can NYC offer curbside EV charger access specific to TLC-licensed vehicles?
  • Why are plug-in hybrids not included? They could fill an important role in this transition.

Like many of the people who spoke at the hearing, the more I think about this new mandate, the more questions I have. Will dealerships have enough affordable EVs to achieve these goals? How will an infrastructure project of this magnitude affect traffic? Will ConEd be able to accommodate the massive spike in power required to charge all of these additional EVs?

I get that people in the trenches don’t always see the big-picture view from above when a change this massive is necessary. But Mayor Eric Adams can say his “Working People’s Agenda” to electrify NYC’s HVFHV will not impose new costs on individual drivers all he wants. Right now, from where I sit, there are just too many unanswered questions to feel comfortable hard-working drivers won’t get hurt.

TLC statistics show that its licensed vehicles contribute about 4% to the city’s vehicle emissions. That may not seem like a big number, but it is. It’s a lot of pollution that can be particularly harmful to children, the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions and those living in underserved neighborhoods – and we’re already seeing the damage climate change is causing globally. So, reducing harmful emissions is an incredibly important topic. The problem is, there are just too many variables that could hinder the Green Rides program’s success – which can create serious hesitation among those who might otherwise be early-adopters of EVs. I so badly hope I look back on this in 2030 and say, “What was I worrying about? This is great.” I’m just not seeing it yet.

Article by Neil Weiss

Neil Weiss is the Editor/Publisher/Owner of Black Car News and Livery Times. He has been involved in the ground transportation industry since 1991, writing thousands of articles on a wide variety of subjects.

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