Can Revel get New York City’s dismal EV charging system out of neutral?
There are approximately
registered to New York City households, a number that doesn’t even include taxis, buses, motorcycles, commuters, or vehicles from outside of the five boroughs. Every day, those drivers navigate traffic, potholes, a short supply of parking, infamously bad road manners, and the fraught consequences of driving in a city that could probably use a lot fewer cars.
Now, imagine a future where most of those cars, if not all, run on electricity instead of gasoline.
One way or another, the future we seem headed toward will need a lot more plugs. The purchase and use of electric vehicles in New York City is rising quickly, but the city’s public charging infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired — worse, even, than the rest of the country’s admittedly subpar network.
Fixing that is the next big play from Revel, the Brooklyn-based ridehailing service that started in 2018
and graduated to an all-Tesla Model Y ridehail alternative to Uber and Lyft. Having grown that operation quickly, it’s now moving into the charging business in a big way.
Now, imagine a future where most of those cars, if not all, run on electricity instead of gasoline
In January, Revel announced it would build five “Superhub” fast-charging sites across the city in addition to the one it operates in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. These hubs will add another 136 charging stations and will serve any EV, not just Revel’s ridehailing vehicles. The current plans call for 60 stalls in Maspeth, Queens; 30 stalls in the Bronx’s Port Morris; 20 stalls in Red Hook, Brooklyn; 16 stalls at The Dime building in South Williamsburg; and an additional 10 stalls at Pier 36 in the Lower East Side between the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges.
All of them will open by the end of this year, the company says, except for the Red Hook location, which is slated to open in 2024. A Revel spokesperson added that the Williamsburg location will be open “very soon.”
Revel hopes this massive injection of EV charging availability will not only power its nascent ridesharing network and enable it to grow but also provide relief for EV owners in the city.
“When you think about big cities in the US like New York, the transition is just stuck in neutral,” Revel CEO and co-founder Frank Reig told
in an interview. “It’s just not happening.”
Compared to the thousands of EVs in the city, 136 charging stalls may not sound like very many. But it’s key to remember these are fast-charging stations capable of at least 150kW, which should be able to power an EV to near-full levels in just 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the vehicle’s capabilities. This means vehicles from across the five boroughs will be able to charge and go fairly quickly and have charging access they may not have had otherwise.
“When you think about big cities in the US like New York, the transition is just stuck in neutral.”
They’ll also be a boon to Revel’s own expansion plans as well as the scores of Uber and Lyft ridehail vehicles that Mayor Eric Adams wants to be all-electric by 2030 — although that goal
Taken together, Revel says these additions will triple fast-charging access in New York City and that the Maspeth Superhub will be the largest public fast-charging station in the Western Hemisphere.
As for safety concerns around adding high-voltage fast charging in areas like Red Hook, which faced severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy, Revel spokesperson Robert Familiar said: “Revel’s Red Hook Recharge Zone will make the Red Hook community more resilient during extreme weather events. The 20-stall V2G [vehicle-to-grid] system combined with on-site solar+storage can back up the local grid during peak demand and potential blackout situations. All critical infrastructure at the site will be elevated above the 100-year floodplain.”
It’s a big move for Revel, which now operates its moped business in several cities and its electric ridehail service in New York and parts of New Jersey. Besides eschewing fossil fuels, Revel is also notable in the space for paying its drivers as employees, not
Reig said one goal is to counter what he called “a classic chicken-and-egg” problem:
is slowed by the lack of infrastructure, but building that infrastructure is contingent on EV demand.
Certainly, EV growth is happening in New York City. But the user experience to go with it is not.
, about 19,000 EVs were registered in New York City’s five boroughs as of early February. That number is growing quickly as more new EVs enter the automotive market. In 2022, those boroughs saw 7,771 new EV registrations, up from 5,513 new EV registrations the year prior. (The city also counts about 9,700 registered plug-in hybrid cars, which may also use the charging infrastructure from time to time.)
In January, the number of EVs registered in NYC passed 1 percent for the first time, a percentage sure to increase as car companies
. And as
, EV registrations in parts of the greater metro area (and the city itself) have seen triple-digit growth since 2020; all of those people will need more charging options sooner than later.
Automakers and industry experts generally say the best use case for EVs is to
or the office. Indeed, at Tesla’s recent Investor Day presentation, one image that stood out in the slideshow was of a car powering up
. But the challenges
; it’s even more difficult in New York City, where apartment complexes with parking lots and space for chargers are far less common than in other cities.
Certainly, EV growth is happening in New York City, but the user experience to go with it is not
Instead, New York City’s EV drivers face a ramshackle assortment of charging options. Those include chargers in parking garages that may or may not be working or staffed by an attendant who understands how they function; stations fenced off inside private lots; the occasional chargers at places like the Whole Foods in Gowanus; various curbside charging ports installed by Con Edison and NYC’s Department of Transportation (DOT) throughout the city; or in some neighborhoods, the occasional 100-foot extension cord running out of a window.
These are the situations Reig wants to start fixing, starting with New York City — and very likely other cities soon.
Thankfully for NYC’s EV drivers, some relief is coming from other sources, too. Last year, the New York Power Authority’s EVolve NY initiative installed
, and Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network is already
Clearly, Revel isn’t alone in this initiative. But the size of its charging investment could put this company on the map in a way that its blue mopeds and Teslas haven’t yet.
In a wide-ranging interview in late January, Reig talked to
about the company’s NYC charging expansion; its transition from a moped company to a charging provider; the many logistical hurdles involved with adding fast charging in the Big Apple; and where he sees the company going next.
Glad to hear you use the service. It’s always easier to talk to someone that’s actually experienced it themselves instead of trying to translate it to somebody.
So first of all, apologies for that. We had a very serious demand spike around the middle of November in terms of just users coming onto the platform. And it took us a little bit of time to respond to that. I would say the service has leveled out a bit, and now, I think we’re in a really good place. We’re back operating at that pre-November level.
Because of the way we built this service to grow responsibly, we control the infrastructure, we control the vehicle, we control the employee drivers, we control the technology, the brand, everything. There’s only so much you can expand at a certain time.
So when there is a demand spike like that, unfortunately, it’s hard to meet it because of everything that we’re doing to make this business grow.
Some of our promotional codes that we had done throughout the year for various things to drive ridership — they had accumulated and were allowed to kind of enter into the system at once. So actually, believe it or not, on social media, a sort of Reel went viral.
And that’s what started a lot of this. We signed up tens of thousands of users in that 24-hour period, which is a little too much for several hundred cars to handle.
“Because of the way we built this service to grow responsibly, we control the infrastructure, we control the vehicle, we control the employee drivers, we control the technology, the brand, everything.”
There are only a certain amount of cars that we have, and then you add tens of thousands of new users in literally a 24-hour period. And then you have someone like yourself, who tried to use the service for six weeks and probably got frustrated. Thankfully, we’re on the other side of that.
I think, first, it just goes back to the culture of the company. You know, we also operate thousands of mopeds in New York and San Francisco. From day one when we launched this company in 2018, we’ve never used the gig economy. So all of our moped swappers, customer support agents, all of our hourly positions — are all employees. So I think that’s just in our DNA.
We believe if you’re going to operate in the city and use a public right-of-way, you should be employing people that live there as well.
The second piece of this is from more of a business aspect: when you’re an employee driver, you now have control. I’m sure you’ve seen for yourself that the cars are very clean. We are able to provide a reliable, consistent type of experience because we control every aspect of it.
If you’re basically just a software platform matching supply and demand, you basically don’t control anything. And it also allows us to actually move forward on electrification and be a first mover there when all other companies are talking about what they’re going to do in 2030.
If you go back to the founding of this company, it was born out of my frustration in getting around the city of New York. I’m a born and bred New Yorker. And it is just frustrating getting around the city sometimes.
So the moped product was born out of that. I saw the moped as maybe one of the best vehicle types to just get around the city in short one-, two-, and three-mile trips.
“We believe if you’re going to operate in the city and use a public right-of-way, you should be employing people that live there as well.”
When it comes to rideshare infrastructure, for us, it’s about really making a really significant investment in New York City’s EV future. If you think about it, just the five sites that we announced a couple of weeks ago: that’s more than 80 percent of New York City’s EV fast charging. I think that that is pretty incredible, right?
As a company, we’re constantly on the bleeding edge, and now, we’re leading on electrification of the city and building up the fast charging that is so desperately needed here.
Not only are we building large-scale charging [hubs] where New Yorkers actually live and work — we’re building one in the Bronx or Maspeth, Queens, or Red Hook, Brooklyn — we’re also building infrastructure a little differently than anybody else. We’re building infrastructure at scale. We’re not putting two chargers at a retail outlet or Walgreens or a Whole Foods.
We’re putting 25 or 60 stalls in strategic areas where New Yorkers live and work. That’s going to deliver to EV drivers a much better experience charging when you have an entire site just devoted to charging, not something that’s an amenity for another business.
For why, you have to go back to the problem we’re solving as a company, and that’s the chicken-or-egg problem. There are not enough EVs out there. So guess what. There’s no infrastructure — because why would somebody spend all that money if there are no EVs? And since there’s no infrastructure, nobody wants to buy an EV.
Everybody knows it’s a problem. When you think about big cities in the US like New York, the EV transition is just stuck in neutral. It’s just not happening. You see many EVs in New York?
So you have this EV transition that’s stuck in neutral. One of the things that’s very unique about our business model is that we’re bringing both charging and energy and mobility into one strategy. We’re executing on that right now in 2023. We’re not talking about what we’re good to do in five, seven years.
So that’s why we bring ridesharing and infrastructure into one business. I would also just say, when you think about the mobility market, you can argue rideshare in New York City is a bigger market opportunity than car-sharing across the entire US.
“There’s no infrastructure — because why would somebody spend all that money if there are no EVs? And since there’s no infrastructure, nobody wants to buy an EV.”
Well, you just add up all the taxi, Uber, Lyft trips, and now Revel in New York City — over a year, you’re talking 300 million-plus trips. You can see the size of that market.
And when you think about the average revenue per trip, you do the math. So all I’m saying is that this is a very big market opportunity. And if you’re going to use mobility to drive this infrastructure business, it needs to be rideshare.
Yes, rideshare is the largest revenue bucket just because of how many hours a day these vehicles are on the streets and the amount of revenue they’re pulling in, as opposed to a charger.
Back to the core of your question: is this a rideshare company, or is this an infrastructure company? Well, right now, if you’re actually going to lead on electrification in cities and be a first mover, you have to have an integrated strategy. You can’t have one without the other.
If we just go out there like we’re doing, put a massive-scale, dense, public fast-charging network in the ground in New York City, and just hope and pray somebody shows up to use it, it’s a great way to lose money. And there is no scaling of electric rideshare in any significant way unless you’re out there putting infrastructure in the ground that currently does not exist.
So there is no one without the other. And if you’re talking about just one of those, you’re usually talking about 2030 then, as a company.
I’ll pass on any revenue conversations.
“Rideshare is the largest revenue bucket just because of how many hours a day these vehicles are on the streets and the amount of revenue they’re pulling in, as opposed to a charger.”
We’re building very much for the rideshare use case. We designed sites with that in mind, so we’re constantly thinking about where rideshare drivers live and work. So that’s just one part of this.
I would say, if I’m going to answer that question more holistically, just to give you an understanding that, yes, this is really difficult — think of a Venn diagram of all the things that need to overlap in order to put 50 fast-charging stalls in the Bronx or Queens or somewhere else in Brooklyn or Manhattan. To put that amount of infrastructure in the ground, zoning laws need to match up. What does the zoning say? Can you even do that? A good 90 percent of the city is no, approximately. Zoning cuts out large swaths of the city.
Then, can Con Edison even get you power? Because you’re talking about skyscraper levels of power for these sites. Can the utility get you the power and on what timeline? Maybe they can get you power, but it’s three or four years out. That doesn’t work. How am I going to negotiate with a landlord and say, “Hey, can we have a deal, but we have to wait four years?”
Then, I’ll just say, there’s a host of other regulatory agencies. What if you need a curb cutout from DOT to make your site live? What if you need to move a fire hydrant for the local utility to drop a transformer onto the site? What if you need to move a street tree? I’m just giving you examples.
Everything needs to match up. You also need a rational landlord. Can you even get them to a rent that makes sense? Do they actually want to do a deal? Also, hey, the timeline for power may be two years — can you give us free rent for two years? (Laughs) Try having that conversation with a landlord.
So you can imagine, yes, this is very difficult. It’s also a reason why a first mover like Revel has a huge
as well, as we’re going out there snatching up all the best sites.
“Think of a Venn diagram of all the things that need to overlap in order to put 50 fast-charging stalls in the Bronx or Queens or somewhere else in Brooklyn or Manhattan.”
Some of these sites will go live in 2023 — some sooner than later.
Some of these sites, like the 60-stall site in Maspeth, Queens, we signed that site, I believe, in 2021. It took two years to get that site going, and that’s moving fast. That’s like pushing every day, every agency, every landlord, every construction worker — push! And it still takes forever.
So I would say sometimes you can get sites live in six to nine months if the power is already available. Maybe it’s a smaller site where you don’t need an upgrade with the utility. Everything lines up perfectly, six to nine months is the absolute best case.
These bigger sites that are 50–60 stalls, minimum of two years. That’s just the way it is.
I mean, nonexistent. I don’t count
. Level 2 is a nice amenity. No one, rationally, as a New Yorker where time is money, is going to spend eight to 10 hours charging their car. It has to be fast, it has to be 15–20 minutes. That is true fast charging, which is what we’re building.
If you look at true fast charging as it’s publicly available… that may also include a garage fee. A lot of times you go to use a charger, to use that, you have to pay [the garage] $20–30. Then, you have to pay for the charging as well.
If you think about
fast charging as it’s publicly available, you can count the sites on one hand. And even a lot of those sites have maybe one or two spots. So, I mean, the network right now is abysmal; it is nonexistent.
“No one, rationally, as a New Yorker where time is money, is going to spend eight to 10 hours charging their car. It has to be fast, it has to be 15–20 minutes.”
I’m trying to think of something that’s actually tangible. You know, there’s something that I’ve always thought about, and this will be a policy change.
Right now, when we go for a power upgrade — and this is not just New York City, this is really any city where we’re working with utility — a lot of times, when you go for a power upgrade, you just get put into the line. Like the building being built over there, and the government office being built there, and you’re just in line with everybody else.
What if public fast charging got moved further up the line at all times? I’m just trying to think about something that’s actually tangible that would actually make a big difference, but it is a policy change.
So if [charging] is behind a fence, it’s private. Why should you go to the front of the line? But if it’s public charging, it gets prioritized because you’re advancing electrification. Get that power upgrade done.
I mean, at a macro level, I just constantly think about this as a company that is accelerating the EV transition in cities today. And this is a company that’s never talking about tomorrow.
Geographic focus. I’m not putting an EV fast-charging infrastructure in 50 states. I’m trying to put it in a handful of the biggest rideshare markets in the densest cities here in the US and being the first company to actually have a scaled and fast-charging network in those markets.
We are absolutely building more EV fast charging right now behind the scenes in other markets. More to come on where those markets are.
And I will just say, we can’t launch rideshare everywhere unless the infrastructure is built.
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