Brooklyn Boro

TLC Pushes Electric Rides, But Drivers Say a Good Charger Is Hard to Find

While the new EV taxi licenses are in demand and many new charging stations are coming, those who already made the electric switch say powering up now is a headache.

March 20, 2023 Jose Martinez and Samantha Maldonado, The City
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The chance to pick up one of 600 new licenses for electric for-hire vehicles sent a jolt through drivers Wednesday morning, with all of the Taxi and Limousine Commission permits snapped up in under five minutes.

But as the city moves toward a goal from Mayor Eric Adams to have a 100% electric for-hire vehicle fleet, including Uber and Lyft, by 2030, TLC-licensed drivers who already operate electric vehicles (EVs) — or did — say the green wave has yet to reach the charging network sprinkled across the boroughs.

“If [charging] would’ve been more accessible, I would’ve kept it,” said Angelis De La Cruz, a Bronx Uber driver who returned a Tesla six months after renting it because charging was so inconvenient. When the 28-year-old ditched the Tesla in November, he got a gasoline-powered Chevy Traverse.

Of the more than 100,000 vehicles licensed by the TLC, just 1,159 are electric, including 34 taxis and 1,125 other for-hire vehicles. Of those, only 10 are affiliated with the more than 700 livery and black car bases in the city.

“Their mandate is to have over 100,000 electric vehicles in a matter of seven years,” said José Altamirano, president of the Livery Base Owners Association and owner of El Barrio’s Car Service in Manhattan, which has no charging stations. “Where do you charge 100,000 vehicles when you have what you have right now?”

A TLC report from last year called “Charged Up!” lays out a roadmap for electrifying the city’s for-hire vehicle fleet. It notes that the current 169 fast chargers are in areas where few drivers live — and 57% of them are exclusively for Tesla vehicles.

The report adds that parts of The Bronx, eastern Queens and southern Brooklyn with a high concentration of drivers are short on fast-charging stations.

Bronx-based livery driver Angelis De La Cruz poses in his Chevy Traverse.
Bronx-based Uber driver Angelis De La Cruz traded in his electric-vehicle last fall. March 16, 2023. | Samantha Maldonado/THE CITY

The city Department of Transportation plans to install 6,000 fast chargers by 2030. The all-electric rideshare company Revel is on pace to build 136 fast-charging “superhubs” open to the public in Maspeth, Queens; Port Morris, The Bronx; Red Hook and South Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and in the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

Revel’s first hub has 25 charging stalls in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and a Revel spokesperson said a South Williamsburg site will open within a month, with room for 16 stalls. Most of the others, the company says, are set to open by the end of this year, with the Red Hook facility targeting a 2024 opening.

Blue Revel vehicles parked at an electric charging station in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
Revel vehicles wait for a charge at their Bed-Stuy hub. | Courtesy of Revel

Wasting Time

Aziz Bah, an Uber and Lyft driver from Queens who has owned an electric vehicle since 2020, told THE CITY that while the 2030 goal is “great,” current access to existing charging stations is inadequate.

Bah said he takes his Volkswagen ID.4 to the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst — which has four charging ports, including three fast-charging DC units — but has often encountered long waits.

“At the end of the shift, you get there and want to go to sleep but the charging stations have two that are malfunctioning and two that are occupied,” he said. “When you want to go to sleep, you still gotta brave it and sit there and wait because you don’t have any other choice. I think that’s very challenging.”

Drivers for app-based ride-hailing services often depend on fast chargers, which can refuel a vehicle in as little as 20 minutes. But those chargers are sparse within the five boroughs, with just 169 spread across about 40 locations.

More common around the city are Level 2 chargers, which can take anywhere from four to 10 hours to juice up an empty EV. Though there are over 500 locations with about 1,800 public Level 2 chargers across the five boroughs, the wait means they are not the most practical for drivers whose time is money.

In addition, at least 70% of public Level 2 chargers and 50% of fast chargers are paywalled, according to a recent report by HR&A Advisors and Uber. That means chargers are in parking garages or are restricted to customers of establishments, like hotels.

An electric car driver charges his vehicle along the beach on Staten Island, May 12, 2022.
An electric car driver charges his vehicle along the beach on Staten Island, May 12, 2022. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

De La Cruz said he ran into these types of issues when he drove the Tesla. He would wake up early to drive half an hour to Yonkers to charge, then have to find a Tesla-compatible fast charger later in the day in a place he wouldn’t have to pay to enter.

He said he would miss out on opportunities to chauffeur passengers by having to drive across the city during rush hour to make it to a fast charger — sometimes all the way to JFK Airport, since the Queens Center Mall often had lines.

“I was making good money with the Tesla, but I was wasting three, four hours of my day just charging,” he said.

De La Cruz now pays more to fill his Chevy Traverse with gas than he did to charge the Tesla, but, he said, the difficulty and stress of finding a charge quickly wasn’t worth it.

Investments Needed

While the TLC “Charged Up!” report cites the need for more charging stations in underserved areas, Altamirano said the cost of installing some near the East 116th Street car service started by his parents “is not tough — it’s impossible.

East Harlem livery business owner Jose Altamirano speaks about the push to have drivers switch to electric vehicles.
East Harlem livery business owner Jose Altamirano says it’s currently difficult to have drivers switch to electric vehicles, March 1, 2023. | Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

“We’ve been here 50 years and the reality is there is no infrastructure for charging,” he said.

To avoid jeopardizing the city’s goals for electric vehicles — plus the associated air quality benefits expected — Jessica Enzmann, a senior organizing representative with the Sierra Club, said the city and private companies have to roll out many more chargers.

“We need to ensure that the charging is accessible to everyone, not just people who own their own driveway, and the investment really has to happen now,” Enzmann said.

The TLC plans to make 400 additional EV licenses available March 29.

Bah, the EV driver from Queens and an organizing director of the Independent Drivers Guild, says there’s just one problem with the effort.

“Can we talk infrastructure first?” he said. “We have to figure out how we’re going to add more charging stations.”

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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