Electric Vehicle Taxis: New York’s Answer to the Uber Problem?

Spencer Platt Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In what turned out to be a bruising battle for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Uber won the right to continue growing unfettered in America’s largest city without a thought to auto emissions or the impact on local traffic. As a result, the de Blasio administration faces its own ambitious goals in emissions reductions with an expanding taxi and car service fleet running on gasoline. New York could solve its Uber problem — and the mounting issues with urban mobility — by embracing the technology and cleaner operation of electric vehicles as taxis.

In case you missed the ugly public spat between the mayor and Uber, the feud began in July over the city’s proposal to cap the for-hire car company’s growth in hopes of controlling gridlock on New York streets. Uber flexed its financial muscle and quickly won a victory over de Blasio and a City Council that was open to capping Uber’s expansion.

This win for Uber represents a loss for an administration that has vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 80% in the coming decades. According to the New York Times, the growth of car services like Uber and Lyft has hit a frenzied pace. Since 2011, for-hire cars have increased over 60% to 63,000 vehicles in New York, with 20,000 of them driving under Uber’s banner.

You don’t need a calculator to see how this rate of growth for gasoline-powered cars would make de Blasio’s emissions and mobility goals impossible to reach. In fact, until the city commits to making at least part of the taxi fleet electric vehicles, New York will be at the mercy of companies like Uber, which would make traffic impossible to navigate in the coming years.


While adding 63,000 vehicles to a city already known for traffic problems sounds like a bad idea, take into consideration the increase in auto emissions. A recent study on urban mobility and auto emissions revealed enormous potential for electric taxis running autonomously. By changing the single-person model of urban taxi fleets, the study showed how a city like New York could reduce emissions by 94% within 15 years.

Instead, the continued expansion of Uber in New York guarantees more gas vehicles will be on city streets every month moving forward with single-person rides dominating the industry. Even with Uber’s car pooling feature coming into service, the cab system in New York is likely to remain dominated by solitary rides. The only difference is hiring a car with an app provides a level of convenience and comfort you cannot find with the city’s yellow cab fleet.

Electric vehicles’ superior connectivity could change the impression passengers have of the outdated New York City fleet. In fact, a cab company operating in Montreal plans to add 2,000 EVs to its fleet in the coming years as a way of competing with companies such as Lyft and Uber, according to Green Car Reports. The company hopes to leverage its green impact on riders in a progressive city.

By offering superior technology for riders hoping to hail via app — not to mention help in the fight to reduce emissions — electric vehicles provide cities like New York with a solution to the problems for-hire vehicles create. De Blasio and the City Council have a long way to go if they hope to provide a sustainable transportation model for New York’s future.

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