Let me begin by saying this: I own an Electric Vehicle (EV) and I genuinely love it. I have also been among those actively trying to persuade the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) to add a limited number of new for-hire vehicle (FHV) licenses, so that “traditional” black car and livery bases and their drivers can accommodate a relatively recent – yet dramatic – increase in business.
So, when it was announced that the TLC would be allowing 1,000 new FHV licenses – but only for EVs – I was admittedly conflicted. Although I really am happy with my EV, I live in a suburban single-family home with a garage, giving me convenient access to a relatively fast charger (it still takes about five hours to charge a battery with a range of between 180 and 200 miles). Unfortunately, we all know that’s not the case with many of the people who drive for a living in NYC, a city that has a woefully underdeveloped EV charging infrastructure. To make matters worse, starting fresh with a new EV is more than most TLC-regulated drivers can manage in the current unstable economic environment.
A recent Crain’s New York Business article touted the fact that Manhattan now has about 320 publicly accessible charging locations, but most of them “exist in a broad arc from the Upper East Side and Upper West Side down through Midtown. Although there are plenty farther south as well, there are few EV chargers above 110th Street.”
Citywide, there are about 520 charging sites, which may sound like a lot – and it is a huge improvement – but it’s nowhere near enough to keep all of the city’s EVs moving. Not even close. There are currently less 700 EVs in the FHV and taxi segments of the industry. Add another 1,000 to that, then add all of the other EVs owned by private car owners and it’s clear that quick and easy access to EV charging is a long way off.
I won’t mince words: The city is again failing the traditional industries. Traditional black car and livery bases have survived a devastating pandemic, and what has been a pretty hostile business environment for quite a few years now, in a city that they have served for decades in many cases. Now that work is finally coming back, that light at the end of the tunnel could be extinguished by polices that are either too extreme or don’t sufficiently help those who really need it.
Word on the street is that calls are coming in for rides, but the traditional bases are struggling to take advantage of them because they can’t find enough drivers – and the prospect of being limited to EV-only FHV licenses would be cold comfort, and will make no discernable dent in the financial hole many of these people have found themselves in, through no fault of their own.
It has also never been clearer that traditional bases played no hand in creating the increased traffic that caused the license pause in the first place. More than 30,000 TLC-licensed vehicles have come off the road since the cap was put in place. Meanwhile, private car registrations have jumped between 37% and 73% in NYC, depending on the borough. This is in large part due to the pandemic, which saw the conversion of city streets, parking lots and other areas into large outdoor dining spaces to compensate for tight indoor dining restrictions. A spike in violent crime has also deterred people from using public transportation, leading to what could be an absolutely devastating congestion pricing fee, if FHVs and taxis are not exempted from paying it.
We don’t have to continue a trend of “one step forward, two steps back,” if city officials would cut the politics, truly examine the core causes of city traffic, and show a little mercy (and gratitude) to traditional bases and their drivers.
It was encouraging to hear TLC Chair David Do express concerns at a recent City Council Transportation Committee Oversight hearing for the industries his agency regulates, should they have to pay a congestion pricing fee. He also pointed out that TLC-regulated industries have already contributed nearly $2 billion to the MTA, through a surcharge they’ve been paying for years. But these are only words. We need to see action.
If the city is going to promote EV usage, it has a long way to go before people who drive in the city for a living won’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time seeking available charging stations and FHVs and taxis should be flatly exempted from having to pay any additional fees to feed an MTA that has suffered, both from the pandemic and mismanagement.