Revel believes it can make New York City an offer it can’t refuse.
The electric vehicle company will privately build the car-charging stations the city needs to support a future where EVs replace gas-powered vehicles. What the company wants in exchange is access to the city streets for its for-hire vehicles — in other words, an exemption from the current cap.
“The only way we are going to scale our fleet is by building that infrastructure,” Revel CEO Frank Reig said.
The Brooklyn company announced Monday that it’s delving into the city’s hired hack business with 50 powder-blue Teslas with the permission of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. To increase its fleet beyond this pilot, it might seek that permission again and again.
Revel’s application had first been rejected in a bid by the city to keep the growing number of cars from ride-sharing apps out of New York’s worsening gridlock.
The for-hire car service universe has become more crowded since Uber and Lyft came on the scene. In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio capped the number of for-hire vehicles on city streets in 2018. That lasted through 2020. Now, the TLC decides every six months if any additional for-hire licenses should be issued.
The pause on licenses had a loophole: electric for-hire vehicles were exempt.
So in February, Revel decided to apply for licenses for its electric vehicles — custom blue Teslas. “We didn’t know if they’d approve them,” Reig said.
They did not. In June, the TLC voted 5 to 1 that the cap should indeed apply to EVs. Reig wrote a letter to the agency protesting the retroactive restriction, arguing that there had been no new analysis or deliberation that would explain their rejection.
As for what has changed since June to get the TLC to allow Revel’s cars on the road, Reig would say only that Revel worked together with the city to allay its concerns around the number of vehicles on gridlocked roads and to underscore a commitment to building charging hubs around the city. The city will next review the cap in August.
By then, Revel’s Teslas will be on the road. It has a fleet of 50, of which 15 have approved licenses, according to the TLC. They will pick up passengers below 42nd Street in Manhattan and plan to expand from there.
Revel started similarly small when it launched a handful of its electric mopeds in Brooklyn in 2018.
“You have to start in a smaller geographic area where you know there is demand,” Reig said. In three years, the company has put 3,000 mopeds, plus several hundred e-bikes, on the street.
But growing the car fleet is likely to be more challenging, since the city is not yet equipped to charge loads of EVs, neither in terms of the amount of energy required nor with respect to where so much charging would actually take place. There are around 1.5 million cars registered to city residents, which does not account for commuters and all taxis.
“We are an aging city,” said Thomas Abdallah, professor in the sustainability management program at Columbia University. “It’s not as easy as just building on top of what we have. There needs to be an engineering master plan.”
Other obstacles include the limited amount of electricity that comes from the power plants upstate, which would need to ramp up. He thought it might take decades for a robust charging infrastructure to arrive, though allowed that an ambitious private company like Revel could push forward the timeline.
Revel is in the process of building out more electric charging hubs that will be used by its fleet and available to the public by the end of 2022, Reig said, though he would not say where or how many. It does have an agreement with its leasing partner to come by a total of 1,000 Teslas in the future, if both the partner and Revel wanted to expand, according to Reig’s letter to the Commission.
“Right now, the only way we can grow the fleet is through the regulatory system that the Taxi and Limousine Commission has set up,” Reig said. He hopes they will be convinced by the progress made so far on creating that electric infrastructure.
In June Revel opened the first station, what it calls a ‘Superhub,’ in Brooklyn — it is the largest publicly available charging station in the country, according to Reig. At the filling station, which is on the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and South Williamsburg, any car can pay to plug into the fast-charging hookups, where a recharge takes 20 minutes for a 100-mile fill-up, according to the company.
Revel also operates several warehouses around the city where 300 employees swap moped batteries and perform other maintenance. In Red Hook, near the Tesla dealership, it has a new space for fleet maintenance and autobody repairs
The last time that Revel announced a funding round was its Series A in 2019 when it brought in $27.6 million. Reig said that the cost of the fleet included hiring 150 drivers, who will be employees, not gig workers, with a base wage of $15 an hour plus tips, financing 50 Teslas, and building the charging stations, which cost millions of dollars each.
Cara Eisenpress is a reporter for Crain’s New York Business, an affiliate of Automotive News.