All of the city’s Ubers, and Lyfts must be running on clean energy and be wheelchair-accessible by 2030, according to new rules unveiled Wednesday by the Adams administration.
The Taxi & Limousine Commission’s new “Green Rides Initiative” stipulates that 5% of “high-volume” for-hire vehicles — a designation applying only to Uber and Lyft — must produce zero carbon emissions or be accessible to those with disabilities starting next year. The number will rise to 15% in 2025, increasing each year until the rules apply to all Ubers and Lyfts in 2030.
Mayor Eric Adams first announced the goal in his State of the City address earlier this year.
“By championing the integration of zero-emission vehicles and wheelchair-accessible transportation, we are cutting dirty emissions and guaranteeing equitable transportation opportunities for every New Yorker,” Hizzoner said in a statement. “This transformative shift will serve as a turning point, propelling New York City towards a greener, cleaner, healthier future.”
Approximately 100,000 for-hire vehicles roam New York City’s streets looking for customers, alongside 13,000 yellow cabs, 900 green cabs, and vehicles from other car services.
Uber and Lyft would each face a $50 fine for every 1,000 trips not completed using clean energy starting in 2030, with fines levied for gas-guzzling rides above the percentage cap until then. The two companies are both embracing the zero-emission goal and say they are partnering with the city to achieve the lofty goal.
The administration wants all New Yorkers to be living within 2.5 miles of a fast-charging port for EVs by 2035. All new passenger vehicles sold in New York State must be running on clean energy by that year. EVs with TLC licenses are eligible for a 15% discount on charging at city-owned ports.
One rideshare driver who already operates an EV, Chris Velez, says he saves money he otherwise would spend on gas.
“I love the EV. We save so much money on gas. I feel good about the change,” said Velez. “Passengers love that it is very quiet, and I get a lot of compliments. I hope the TLC releases more EV plates.”
But the rules don’t spell out any new incentive programs to reach the goal, instead relying on existing state and federal offerings. Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the 27,000-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance, argues that without financial assistance, the mostly-immigrant driver workforce will be left to meet the mandate on their own dime.
“While the rule requires Uber and Lyft meet certain benchmarks, it’s the drivers who have to pay for the vehicles, and without financial programs to correspond with the rule, drivers alone will bear these costs,” Desai said. “A green transition is the only way forward for all of us and we won’t let ourselves be subject to having to choose between sustainable air and financial survival. So we plan to work with the TLC and the Mayor’s office to ensure that the city doesn’t get this wrong.”
There are also currently no wheelchair-accessible EVs available in the American market, largely due to the immense size of the vehicles’ batteries, presenting a challenge for the industry to meet both planks of the mandate simultaneously. As such, disability advocates blasted the rule as creating an “either-or” scenario pitting environmental sustainability against disability access, and are calling on the TLC to revise it.
“There’s absolutely no reason this needs to be an either-or proposal. The City can and must use its regulatory power to make sure all for-hire vehicles are both 100% accessible and 100% electric by 2030,” said Joe Rappaport, executive director of the Brooklyn Center for the Independence of the Disabled. “Anything less is discriminatory and counters the accessibility goals the City itself has set. The City, environmentalists, and disability advocates must not be pitted against each other but instead must unite to make New York City cleaner AND fully accessible.”
In January, the TLC approved an increase in the city’s strict for-hire vehicle cap, allowing an additional 1,000 cars to hit the streets provided they are EVs.
Correction: a previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the initiative applies to taxis. It only applies to high-volume for-hire vehicle services. It has also been corrected to note the rule applies to zero-emission and wheelchair-accessible vehicles separately, not together.