Revel supporters rally demanding city approve its all-electric cab fleet

Revel employees and supporters rally outside City Hall on June 21.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Brooklyn moped-share start-up Revel rallied outside City Hall Monday demanding the city allow them to roll out a fleet of electric cabs.

The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates for-hire vehicles, plans to vote on closing a loophole Tuesday that allows companies applying for a for-hire vehicle license to get around a three-year-old cap on new permits if it’s for electric vehicles — and Revel’s chief said bureaucrats were deliberately putting up a roadblock against the company. 

“Right now, we are being blocked from launching our service here in New York City — I would argue illegally — a service that is only trying to do things: actually provide a new way for drivers here in New York City,” said Revel co-founder and chief executive officer Frank Reig at the June 21 demonstration.

One of 50 Revel-branded Teslas the company wants to roll out as part of an all-electric cab fleet.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The company known for its omnipresent blue mopeds announced in April that they want to introduce an all-electric cab fleet starting with 50 Teslas serving riders in Manhattan below 42nd Street.

But TLC Commissioner Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk threw cold water on the proposal saying the panel wouldn’t green-light their application due to an oversupply of rideshare cars on the city’s streets, Streetsblog reported.

Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2018 capped the number of new for-hire vehicles to stem companies like Uber and Lyft’s “race-to-the-bottom” threatening to displace yellow taxi drivers and congesting Manhattan’s streets.

Hizzoner extended the pause indefinitely in 2019, with exemptions for battery-powered electric cars, along with wheelchair-accessible cars, which Revel hoped to use to get its fleet going, but city officials argued the exemption was meant to get existing drivers out of gas-guzzling cars rather than add more vehicles to the streets.

Revel pitched its service as a counter to other rideshare companies, like Uber, because the company would hire its drivers as employees rather than gig workers, with healthcare benefits and paid time off. 

Revel co-founder and CEO Frank Reig speaks outside City Hall on June 21.Photo by Kevin Duggan

The company started out with its battery-powered moped sharing service in Bushwick in 2018, before expanding to more boroughs over the coming years and amassing a 3,000-strong fleet of scooters. 

But after a string of three deaths on the two-wheelers last summer, the startup began diversifying its business by rolling out an e-bike subscription service in February and building an electric vehicle charging ‘superhub’ at the old Pfizer factory in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which is set to go live next week. 

Revel bosses have already tapped 81 people to start working for them as soon as they get the go-ahead, according to Reig, and they eventually plan to expand to 150 drivers. 

One 30-year veteran yellow cab driver at the Monday rally echoed Revel’s demands, calling on de Blasio and the TLC to give him an opportunity for better working conditions. 

“The mayor can stay home for one week, for two weeks, can get on a plane and go on a vacation. When he comes back that pay check is waiting for him. I want that same thing, as a New Yorker,” said Desmond Armah-Hammond. “I want to work for an organization that gives me healthcare benefits… Right now Revel would give me that.”

Hizzoner told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer on Friday that he was worried about opening the floodgates again on rideshare vehicles. 

“We are looking at Revel’s suggestion,” said de Blasio said on June 18. We are looking at how to maximize the number of electric vehicles in our for-hire fleet, but we also want to be really careful to not start back up the ladder of too many for-hire vehicles in New York City, with the problems that that brought us before.”

Now the TLC is poised to close the electric vehicle loophole at a hearing Tuesday, June 22, but the panel already sent out a notice on its website over the weekend saying TLC had already adopted the change as of Tuesday, which Revel’s Twitter account published saying:

“@nyctaxi must have a time machine! Apparently, the 6/22 hearing on banning new EVs was *already* held and the rule passed.”

TLC Allan Fromberg told amNewYork Metro that Revel’s tweet was misleading because an obscure city rule known as the City Administrative Procedure Act (CAPA) actually requires agencies to post final version of their proposed rules online at least three days ahead of a vote, including information about a vote that hasn’t actually happened yet. 

The rep followed up with a statement by Commissioner Jarmoszuk saying that the agency was keeping a check on rideshare companies flooding the streets with more cars.

“This is one of the moments for which the cap was created – to provide a check and balance for businesses whose strategy is to disrupt the system, adding to congestion and putting profits and growth before the City’s welfare,” Jarmoszuk said.

The TLC honcho added that the new rules would still include the agency studying battery-powered electric vehicles when analyzing adding more vehicles to the street twice a year and that the commission did grant the company’s application for a dispatch center. 

“The bottom line here is that the TLC is doing its job, which in this instance means protecting New Yorkers from an onslaught of new vehicles while maintaining a pathway to electrification,” the commissioner said. 

When asked whether Revel would consider suing the city if officials deny them a license, Reig declined to say, claiming only: 

“We know the law is on our side, we know New Yorkers are on our side, we know the Mayor’s Office and the TLC will come to their senses.”

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will hold its virtual meeting on Tuesday, June 22 at 11:30 am. To tune in to the livestream, go to www.nyc.gov/tlc.