After tangling with the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission over whether it would allow the company Revel to launch a fleet of Tesla taxis in the city, the company has finally gotten approval to move forward in August.
Revel is best known for its bright blue moped share program, which halted operations over safety issues last year when two users died. It has since revamped its training for users.
The company is now rolling out a fleet of bright blue Tesla Y taxis. It plans to release 50 in Manhattan next month. Those vehicles will only pick up and drop off customers in Manhattan below 42nd Street.
A photographer for the Daily News spotted the taxis ahead of the official announcement at a warehouse in Red Hook.
“Our thinking here is similar to when we launched 68 mopeds in three North Brooklyn neighborhoods—with a limited fleet, we need to limit our service area to a smaller area where we know there’s going to be demand,” Frank Reig, CEO of Revel, wrote in a statement. “Once we’ve established what the utilization patterns and data look like, we can consider growing into other neighborhoods and boroughs.”
The city had capped new taxis from entering the once over-saturated market, but there was an exemption for electric and wheelchair accessible vehicles. In June, the city closed that loophole, but agreed to allow electric vehicles to apply for TLC licenses twice a year.
Unlike its rivals Uber and Lyft, Revel’s drivers are full time employees and receive minimum wages and benefits, such as paid time off and sick days. The company plans to hire 125 drivers and 25 support staff.
Revel has also agreed to install charging stations around the city that will be open to the public.
The pandemic has altered the taxi landscape in the city. Uber and Lyft users have reported high costs, and sometimes low availability, especially at airports. Access-a-ride users that are allowed to hail yellow taxis as well as vehicles that use the apps Curb, Arro, and Limosys have said they still have difficulty getting a taxi.
“Taxis have exclusive street hail privileges in NYC and their main areas of operations are the Central Business District and the NYC airports,” Allan Fromberg, a spokesperson for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, wrote in a statement. “The TLC has serious concerns about any business models that would exclude most New Yorkers and that would undermine market share for Taxis or existing TLC Licensed Operators, such as Livery and traditional Black Cars.”
The number of taxis on city streets overall appears to be half of what it was before the pandemic. There were 639,013 taxis in May 2002, compared to 1,023,694 in May 2019.