The panel at "NYC's Road to Electrification" (left to right): Alejandro de la Garza, Staff Writer, TIME Magazine (Moderator); Dr. Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud, Director of E-Mobility, ConEdison; Ryan Wanttaja, First Deputy Commissioner, TLC; Kevin Miller, Senior Advisor at the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation; Frank Reig, CEO & Co-Founder, Revel.

Meeting NYC’s Electrification Goals Will Require Public/Private Partnerships, Says Panel

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Like many urban areas, New York City suffers from excessive noise, traffic and pollution from passenger and commercial vehicles as they travel the city streets day and night. Under mayor Eric Adams, New York City has set aggressive timelines for full-scale electrification of passenger vehicles in order to improve air quality and help avoid the catastrophes of widespread climate change. One of the city’s standout goals is the conversion of the city’s “for hire” vehicle fleet to 100% zero emissions by 2030.

According to data from New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), TLC-licensed vehicles (taxis, limousines, and ride-share vehicles) represent roughly 4% of total emissions for New York City’s transportation sector. And while 4% may seem like a small number, this represents around 600,000 tons of CO2 as well as other harmful emissions spewed into New York City’s air in 2022 alone. So converting TLC’s fleet of over 130,000 vehicles to zero emissions vehicles is a move in the right direction. One major step toward this goal was formalized last week with the “Green Rides” program.

Under the Green Rides initiative, 100% of the rides dispatched by high-volume ride-sharing services (currently Uber and Lyft) must be fulfilled by zero emissions vehicles or wheelchair-accessible vehicles by 2030. This includes over 78,000 vehicles. Competitive ride share service Revel doesn’t yet qualify as a “high volume” service but, since Revel offers a 100% electric ride share service and already has a fleet of EVs (mostly Tesla Model Y and Model 3), the company will automatically be in compliance with the rule when it does graduate to a high volume ride share service.

Does this mean all the independent drivers who work for Lyft and Uber will need to immediately buy electric vehicles at their own expense? Not necessarily. The rule sets annual benchmarks beginning at the end of 2024, when 5% of rideshare trips must be either zero-emission or wheelchair accessible — a reasonable milestone that has actually already been achieved. The requirement increases to 15% at the end of 2025, then 25% at the end of 2026, and then by an additional 20% each year until 2030. Also, by putting the onus on the ride-sharing service, now the responsibility shifts to Uber and Lyft to provide incentives to their drivers to purchase or lease EVs or wheelchair-accessible vehicles so that the companies can reach their city-mandated quotas.

But getting there doesn’t just require that 78,000 ICE vehicles get replaced with EVs. The city will also need improved EV charging infrastructure to handle the increase in EVs. And while the city and state have their own charging initiatives, this is another opportunity for private business to step in. In addition to building its own fleet of EV ride-share vehicles, Revel is also building out a network of high speed public charging stations in the New York City area. These stations are used by Revel to charge their own ride share EVs but are also open to the public, including Uber and Lyft drivers.

As of October, 2023, Revel has opened two fast charging superhubs in New York City with a total of 40 stalls. Each Revel superhub is open to the public and each supports both the CCS (Combined Charging System) charging standard and NACS (North America Charging Standard) aka the “Tesla plug.” Revel is working on an additional four superhubs in New York City, with a total of 120 additional fast charging stalls. These fast charging stations can get EV owners up to 80% of their range back in 20-30 minutes.

At New York City’s Tech Week event last week, Revel hosted a panel of EV and charging experts from both the private and public sector to discuss how both private companies and public organizations will need to work together in order to meet these electrification goals.

The panel included:

Alejandro de la Garza, Staff Writer, TIME Magazine (Moderator)

Alejandro is a staff writer on the climate desk at TIME. He’s been covering green technology since early 2021, writing on topics ranging from battery materials to geoengineering. He was named as the 2023 Emerging Journalist of the Year by Covering Climate Now.

Dr. Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud, Director of E-Mobility, ConEdison

Dr. Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud completed her Ph.D. on measuring the polarization of the cosmic microwave background in 2010 from Columbia University and is now the Director of E-Mobility at Con Edison, where she has worked on a variety of projects related to energy generation, storage, and distribution. ConEd is the gas and electric utility in New York City and Westchester County, NY.

Ryan Wanttaja, Deputy TLC Commissioner

Ryan Wanttaja serves as First Deputy Commissioner of the TLC (Taxi and Limousine Commission). In this position, Ryan leads the agency’s Policy, External Affairs, and Communications teams, as well as helps guide the agency’s overall strategy and operations. He works closely with TLC’s team of data and policy analysts, communication professionals, and outreach experts to ensure TLC’s policy goals are data-based, well-developed, and well-communicated to the industry and public alike.

Kevin Miller, Senior Advisor at the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation

Kevin Miller is the senior advisor for business models within the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, a federal government organization created through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to facilitate collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Kevin leads efforts to develop policies and programs to unleash significant and sustainable private investment in zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure and serves as subject matter expert for clean transportation business models. Previously, Kevin served as senior director of public policy for ChargePoint, a leading provider of EV charging solutions, and acting chief financial officer for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

Frank Reig, CEO & Co-Founder, Revel

Frank Reig is Co-Founder & CEO of Revel, the Brooklyn-based electric mobility and infrastructure company with a mission to accelerate EV adoption in America’s densest cities. Since founding the company alongside COO Paul Suhey in 2018, Frank has grown Revel from shared electric mopeds to launching New York’s first all-electric, all-employee rideshare service and operating the city’s largest public fast charging network. A native New Yorker, Frank is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The panel at “NYC’s Road to Electrification” (left to right): Alejandro de la Garza, Staff Writer, TIME Magazine (Moderator); Dr. Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud, Director of E-Mobility, ConEdison; Ryan Wanttaja, First Deputy Commissioner, TLC; Kevin Miller, Senior Advisor at the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation; Frank Reig, CEO & Co-Founder, Revel.

Barriers to Electrification of For-Hire Vehicles

Alejandro de la Garza, the panel’s moderator, asked the experts to weight in on various challenges which stand in the way of electrifying the city’s for-hire vehicle fleet. Hearing from representatives from both federal and local government, a local utility and a private sector company in the ride share and EV charging space, it became clear that realizing ambitious electrification goals like this will require close partnerships between the private and public sectors.

Ryan Wanttaja, First Deputy Commissioner of the TLC, explained that the Green Rides initiative was based on California’s “Clean Miles” standard, but while California is still finalizing the regulations three years after announcing it, New York City was able to go from planning to city law in just six months. “It was important for us not to mandate that any individual driver go out and purchase a new vehicle to meet certain fuel economy standards,” said Wanttaja. “This is a vehicle use requirement. By putting the requirement on the people who have the money, not on the individual drivers who may be struggling to make a living, but on Uber and Lyft, we are hoping to encourage these companies to incentivize their drivers to move toward electric and wheelchair-accessible vehicles.”

Also last week, the TLC announced that they were eliminating the cap for new TLC licenses in New York City, but only for zero emissions vehicles.

Ryan Wanttaja from TLC makes a point at the “NYC Road to Electrification” event at NYC Tech Week, 2023.

The TLC had previously suspended the new license cap for EVs, but in 2021 they reversed that ruling, which led to some consternation and frustration from ride-share startup Revel, which was in the final stages of rolling out the first 50 electric cars in its own ride-sharing service. Eventually Revel and the TLC were able to resolve this issue. But the removal of the license cap entirely for for-hire EVs will stimulate the growth of Revel’s all electric ride-share service as well as encouraging the displacement of gas-powered ride-sharing vehicles with electric ones used by Uber and Lyft.

Improving the Infrastructure

The moderator then flipped the conversation over to the infrastructure investments required in order to support all these new EVs. ConEd’s Dr. Britt Reichborn-Kjennerud said the key here is to plan ahead — way ahead. While installing Level 2 chargers rarely requires any sort of infrastructure improvements, and ConEd’s program has already led to over 4,000 new Level 2 EV chargers in the city, it’s the fast chargers (L3 chargers) that may require infrastructure improvements. “These are upstream investments in substations and feeders that can take five to seven years. So you can’t really recover from that if you don’t plan ahead of time. There’s just no way to catch up. So what we’re doing now is working through the regulatory process in New York State to plan more proactively. We built a bottom-up model for EV charging through full adoption. We can see where the fleet is parked. We know propensity for fast charging. We’re now working to build ahead, before the load and not try to just perfectly ‘right-time’ the capacity but start the build out now because there’s a lot of work ahead to get the grid ready.”

Think Federally, Act Locally

Turning to Kevin Miller, from the Joint Office of Energy and Transportation, the moderator asked how federal programs interact with the goals of a city like New York and the imperatives of a utility like ConEdison. Miller talked about his agency’s focus on about $7.5B in funding earmarked for the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program ($5B) and the Charging, Fueling and Infrastructure (CFI) program ($2.5B). NEVI focuses on high speed highway corridor charging for practical long distance travel in EVs while the CFI program focuses more on Level 2 community charging for schools, parks, public streets and publicly accessible parking locations. The combined goal is to deploy at least 500,000 public chargers across the country. In addition to these, there is around $5B allocated to the EPA’s clean school bus program and around $6B in funding for improving and decarbonizing public transit programs.

Miller explained that the success of these programs depends not just on technology and developers, but also on community outreach. The agency requires that this community outreach be baked into all of the state’s individual implementations plans. “We need to make sure we’re not just plopping infrastructure down in a neighborhood without making sure that it provides value to that community, and communicating that value to its residents.” The agency also requires that these state plans include details of now only how and where the chargers will be installed but also how they will be serviced and maintained over time. As part of that goal, there are stipulations built into the funding that require that new chargers be available a minimum of 97% of the time and that the chargers reach certain minimum power levels (which vary depending on the type of charger). So in other words, if states want to receive the funding for these programs, their electric infrastructure plans need to be fully fleshed out for both the short and longer terms.

Charging Challenges

Alejandro turned the conversation toward real world barriers involved in actually deploying these new charging stations in a major city. He asked Frank Reig, CEO of Revel, what have been the hurdles in deploying high speed charging stations in New York City. Reig described the three factors that need to align in order to deploy high volume high speed charging stations in New York City: power availability, permitting and “landlord rationality.”

Firstly, the site must have the ability to bring adequate power to the site in order to run multiple high speed EV chargers concurrently. Is the site close to a sub-station or was it previously used for an electricity-heavy business? Secondly, the permitting requirements may be extensive. Was it previously a gas station? Does the site need any type of remediations? Will it meet the fire codes? And lastly, is the site owner willing to work with the charging provider in a reasonable way? And if all three of these factors are manageable, is it actually a good location for an EV charger?

Revel CEO and Co-Founder Frank Reig at the “NYC Road to Electrification” discussion panel at NYC Tech Week 2023.

“Is it a good site? Are people going to want to go there?” Reig asked. “Are there vehicles around there?” If you find a great site with plenty of power and a reasonable landlord, it still may not make sense if it isn’t in a convenient location. “This really is a challenging problem,” said Reig. “We’ve been scouring New York City for over three years, working with folks like ConEd almost daily to identify the best locations for chargers. Power is always that biggest piece but there can be all kinds of other challenges.”

How to Make it Easier?

The moderator then asked if there were any one thing that could change in order to make these charger deployments easier. Reig was quick to answer that question. “If I could wave a policy wand and make one thing happen, that would be that if the project is public, and it’s charging infrastructure, it goes to the front of the queue for power grids. That alone would work magic for businesses like us and allow us to invest much more quickly.”

Reig described Revel’s first superhub charging station, which was built on the site of a former Pfizer manufacturing plant in Brooklyn. “We were able to immediately lock in on over 5 megawatts of power, the ConEd substation was right there. We signed that lease in January 2021 and did a ribbon-cutting with the DOE in June 2021. Five months and we were able to launch a 25 stall supercharger.” The ConEd representative agreed that their own processes in regards to new power deployment for transportation projects could be improved. “We need to move these types of projects faster. We’re committed to that and working hard on it.”

Adding to the conversation, Wantajja said that part of the benefit that the TLC adds to the process is that they collect and report on vast amounts of data: where TLC registered vehicles go during their shifts, when they go there and where they’re parked during off-hours. The TLC makes these data and reports available to the public and to partner agencies like the DOT (Department of Transportation) and businesses like Revel to help inform where charging infrastructure is actually needed.

EVs vs. Public Transportation — Are They Mutually Exclusive?

The moderator took things in a bit of a different direction when he asked the panel whether focusing on incentivizing individual vehicle owners to go green was being done at the expense of investments in public transportation. As clean as an EV is, it still takes up space on a road and contributes toward traffic congestion. And meanwhile those who can’t afford, or choose not to own a vehicle still need to get around, hopefully without leaving too large a carbon footprint themselves. Miller chimed in on this one and said that while the focus of the panel was specifically on decarbonizing ride-share and private vehicles, there is also a large amount of funding available for electrification of mass transit vehicles like busses and trains as well as funding for “modal shift” initiatives (efforts to shift riding behavior from individual powered vehicles to mass transit, shared rides and bicycles). He also stressed that there is a great deal of leeway in the implementation of these projects to tailor each state’s and city’s own programs to their specific local needs.

Miller asked, “How do we start thinking about what are those operating and capital expenditure barriers that we can alleviate and overcome to make clean transportation be a part of everyone’s life, regardless of how you get around: if you have a vehicle, if you take the bus, or if you take a scooter? I think there’s a lot of flexibility in what we have out there with these programs. We’re trying to provide support to help people get there and these are real challenges that we see, and we want to make sure that we’re partnering with the utilities, partnering with the TLC, partnering with the ride share folks to really make that feasible and not to take a one-size-fits-all approach.”

How Revel Makes it Happen

Speaking of private/public partnerships, the moderator asked Reig how Revel has managed to work so successfully with city agencies in order to deploy ambitious projects like large scale fast charging stations and implementing a new all electric ride-share service. Reig responded, “Since day one, when we launched our electric moped sharing service in 2018, we’ve just had a mantra of transparency and making sure we’re communicating to government partners and regulators that this is what we’re up to, this is who we are, this is what we’re about, this is what we’re trying to do. And this is what we have to offer the community.”

“When we first started this business I went in front of essentially every community board in Brooklyn, talking about shared electric mopeds and how they would benefit the community. I think, from day one we’ve always just had the idea that if you’re not working with the communities — if they don’t know who the hell you are — you’re not going to be successful. So we’ve taken that mantra over to everything we’re doing on ride-share and infrastructure. We are not going to be successful if we cannot partner with ConEd and actually get things done. If they don’t see us as a partner, how does anything get done? It’s impossible. It’s not going to happen if we don’t have a good relationship with the department of buildings. They need to understand our zoning requirements for a fast charging site, otherwise how can we get anything done? So I think the key to our success is that constant communication, constant transparency.”

Reasons for Optimism

To wrap things up, the moderator asked panel members what they’ve seen specifically that makes them optimistic about the possibility — the inevitability — of a greener New York City. Reichborn-Kjennerud said that her optimism comes from the convergence of policies, manufacturing, technology, and market demand that point to electric vehicles becoming the norm. Although the current market share of EVs in ConEd’s territory is only at around 2%, she said 1 in 10 new vehicles purchased in their territory within the past year is now electric. And this bodes well for the future. But she is a little concerned about whether they’ll be able to build the grid out fast enough to meet demand. And this is why she believes they (ConEd) have to try to stay ahead of the demand curve.

Wanttaja from TLC said what makes him optimistic is the overwhelming political and corporate buy-in to electrifying the fleet, at least in public. “The optics of opposing the green transition are just bad. So people who are privately opposed to it, and would otherwise be dragging their feet aren’t really able to mount an effective attack against it.” In terms of challenges, Wanttaja just wonders whether the electrification of the for-hire vehicle fleet on its own will be enough to make a difference. In his opinion, we need to be focusing more on shared rides and shared mobility in order to make a greater impact. Also, the fact that there is still not a commercially available EV in the U.S. that is wheelchair-accessible worries him a bit in terms of being able to satisfy the needs of disabled passengers while still going all electric.

Miller from the Joint Office says his optimism also comes from the increased buy-in across the board for EV adoption. “We’re not talking about whether this is going to happen. We’re talking about the how.” As Miller said, this doesn’t mean it will be easy. It still requires the tight alignment of federal, state and local initiatives, but the general consensus is that it’s doable. “It’s a complex challenge, but it’s one in which we can stick the landing.”

Reig agreed with Miller, and added, “I think of the journey of EV adoption as almost like a startup journey. It’s all heading in the right direction, but there are ups and downs along the way.” He continued: “I think I’ll leave you with this: since you’re heading out in lower Manhattan. Just take a look at the cars that go by you when you’re in Manhattan. Take a look at the license plate, If it starts with a “T” and ends with a “C” it’s a TLC vehicle. You’ll start to realize just how many cars in the city are Ubers and Lyfts. Now imagine them all electric. Walking around Manhattan, it seems like 3 out of 4 cars have TLC plates. So that future is not too far away where pretty much the vast majority of cars in the central business district of Manhattan will be electric. And if you don’t believe me just travel to Los Angeles. I was there two weeks ago, and I cannot believe where California is. Every time I travel to California in six or 12 month increments I just see more and more EVs. It’s almost like they’re two years ahead of us. So if you want to see what 2025 looks like for New York City, just go to Los Angeles. And that makes me optimistic.”

Related Reading:

Revel, NYC’s All Electric Ride Share, Passes 1 Million Rides, 300 EVs, 1,000 Drivers

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Chris Boylan

is an EV and alternative fuel enthusiast who has been writing about technology since 2003.

Chris Boylan has 56 posts and counting. See all posts by Chris Boylan