Earlier this week, Teslarati reported that the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) blocked the deployment of 50 Tesla Model Y taxis from Revel, an electric transportation startup, by making some last-minute changes to the policy on this sector. Elon Musk responded to Teslarati‘s tweet with two question marks, which led to more questions about Revel and the information it provided.
The decision was finalized with a 5-to-1 vote and it blocks Revel from launching its electric fleet without breaking city rules. The TLC argued that Revel would still be able to operate its fleet of EVs as long as it buys 50 gas cars first and swaps the license. (There’s a complicated history of dominoes here that Jennifer Sensiba just explained.)
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 23, 2021
Before we dive into the questions and other issues surrounding this saga, I want to point out that Teslarati isn’t intentionally spreading misleading information, but it is citing the information from other sources that called into question the fairness of the TLC’s decision. Elon’s response to Teslarati is a good thing that opened the door for the truth to step in.
When I first saw the Teslarati piece and Elon’s comments, I wanted to join in with those who are rightfully upset. The idea of banning EV startups like Revel from doing business in a city seems like an attack on EVs and clean energy. Why should Revel, an electric vehicle startup, have to buy fossil-fuel vehicles in order to operate EVs in the city? This is an incredibly stupid move by the TLC — if 100% accurate, which Teslarati and several news outlets such as The Hill and The New York Post have reported in essentially the same way.
However, Absurd Curiosity, a podcast in which one of the hosts lives in New York, pointed out that this isn’t exactly true and that the entire story isn’t being told.
Whole story isn't being told (not the fault of @Teslarati), and Revel is manipulating the truth.
— Absurd Curiosity Podcast (@AbsurdCuriosity) June 23, 2021
Absurd Curiosity stated in a series of tweets:
“There is no ban on ‘electric taxi licenses.’ The ban is on all new licenses because the livery industry in NYC is on its knees due to Covid-19.
“They need to recover and allowing a new service into the city will just be insult to injury to these companies who have faithfully served all five boroughs for years. This is a false narrative that Revel is spreading and everyone who is in favor of EVs is taking it as truth.
“Revel wants to service only below 42nd street of Manhattan, the most lucrative area of the city, and ignore all other areas, less lucrative areas, most notably less affluent minorities. They also want a pass on the NYC mandate to supply wheelchair accessible vehicles so they’re biased against the handicapped as well.”
This adds a lot of extra context and light to the history of NYC taxis and ridesharing licenses that Jennifer wrote.
I reached out to the podcast and they shared some interesting information with me. First, there’s a lot of backstory that we need to wade through before jumping to conclusions, and second, a document was provided by the City of New York that shows that EVs aren’t the only ones banned. The ban includes new fossil-fuel-vehicle licenses, too.
That document explains what vehicles are included in the exemption to the 2018 rideshare ban — EVs and wheelchair access vehicles (WAV).
NYC’s 2018 Ban On Rideshare Vehicles
In 2018, NYC regulators temporarily banned for-hire vehicle licenses that rideshare employees need in order to drive people around for work. Revel found a loophole and is using an exception that the regulators left for EVs. This is how Revel was able to create the new rideshare service while there was a temporary ban in place for such services.
The ban was put in place to help the city improve traffic problems while helping taxi drivers earn money, but the regulators left the exception for EVs to help stimulate electric vehicle purchases.
TLC Chair Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk said that “the electric battery exemption exists to encourage already-licensed cars to go green.” [Editor’s note: That’s much different from an exemption to allow an indefinite number of new ridesharing vehicles in the city as long as they’re electric. Again, that is what TLC Chair Jarmoszuk claims was the intent of the exemption, and that seems like a logical exemption if you don’t want the fleet size to grow but you want it to electrify, but it does seem that the regulation was initially written in a way that allowed Revel’s business plan to form, if it didn’t specifically invite such a business plan. Without more info, though, it’s unclear to us whether Revel’s team saw the initial intent and was just trying to slip through a loophole or if it misunderstood the intent and thought its business plan was based on what the city, including TLC, wanted. Also, just to repeat one more time, this assumes that what TLC Chair Jarmoszuk says what the intent of the regulation was indeed its original intent.]
An Extension To The Ban In 2019
That temporary ban was extended by another year. The Verge reported in August 2019 that the New York City Council voted to halt the issuance of new for-hire vehicle licenses for 12 months. Under the new cap, Uber and Lyft could still be granted licenses for wheelchair-accessible vehicles but could not add new ride-hail vehicles for one year.
NYC Closes The Loophole And Blocks Revel’s EV Launch
AM Metro New York reported on June 22, 2021, that NYC is closing the EV exemption, which will block Revel’s EV taxi launch, but it may be more about clarifying the exemption than closing it.
“We will not be repeating the same mistakes of the past. We already have a cap and a process in place to look at issuing new vehicle licenses holistically, based on the need of the market and the needs of our city,” TLC Commissioner Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk said at the June 22 public hearing.
In a New York Post article, the author called into question the accuracy and fairness of that vote and shared some tidbits of information. In a recent interview with the New York Post, TLC Chair Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk promised that neither Revel nor any other company entering the rideshare market would be barred. The TLC left a loophole that Revel and other companies could use to get into the market. That loophole requires the purchase of existing gas vehicles being purchased and then taken out of service to be replaced with Teslas. [Editor’s note: This seems to be a source of confusion among Tesla/EV fans. What this means is that Revel must buy vehicles (fossil-powered vehicles) that have existing licenses and then retire those vehicles and use their licenses for electric vehicles. The idea is that Revel (or others) must replace vehicles in the existing fleet, not simply add to the fleet total.]
Another idea that Revel could do is to make its fleet of Tesla’s wheelchair accessible. Not only would this enable it to launch legally, but it would show that they are friendly to all customers.