By 2030, any Lyft or Uber you hail will be an electric car, New York City Mayor Eric Adams promised in last week’s State of the City speech. Switching to electric cars is a key step to curb greenhouse gas emissions and stave off the worst outcomes of climate change.

How exactly ride sharers will get to that point, though, is still unclear. This shift could be burdensome for Lyft and Uber’s corps of contractors — as it would require purchasing electric vehicles and potentially acquiring at-home charging stations.

“We are thrilled by the Mayor’s vision for electrification and committed to working towards a cleaner, more sustainable high-volume fleet,” David Do, commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said in a statement, adding that more details will be available “in the coming weeks.”

Adams assured New Yorkers in last week’s speech that it “will be achieved with no new costs for individual drivers.”

But the mayor’s office has not explained who will foot the bill in their stead — the city, the rideshare giants, or someone else entirely. Adams also said the city will add charging stations in all five boroughs to help accommodate this fleet, but didn’t share details on the number or type of the new ports.

Another obstacle to the mayor’s plan is that there isn’t yet a wheelchair-accessible electric car available on the U.S. market. Lyft and Uber both allow users to hail accessible rideshares, although both apps’ offerings have come under fire for not delivering as promised.

"In order for the TLC-licensed fleet to transition to electric vehicles, wheelchair accessible EVs must be available."
Taxi & Limousine Commission Electrification Report 2022

“In order for the TLC-licensed fleet to transition to electric vehicles, wheelchair accessible EVs must be available,” the city agency wrote in a report last year. “The earliest reports of these types of vehicles entering the market is 2024, but the timeline may be much longer.”

Even before the announcement, both rideshare companies had already promised to go all-electric by the end of the decade. But progress has been slow. As of 2022, electric cars make up just 1% of all vehicles licensed with the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), according to data from the agency.

“New York’s commitment will accelerate an equitable city-wide transition to electric, and we’re eager to collaborate with the TLC on an ambitious plan for a rideshare clean mile standard,” Lyft sustainability director Paul Augustine said in a statement.

The change would affect an estimated 100,000 rideshare vehicles, Adams said — a curious number given Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps only operate about 78,000 individual drivers in the city. In Dec. 2022, the most recent month for which data is available, high-volume rideshare services like Lyft and Uber made more than 634,000 pickups each day on average in New York City.

Electrical charges

An all-electric rideshare fleet is an important step toward making NYC greener, and TLC suggested in a report last year that the transition will save drivers money in the long run. But the initial investment won’t come cheap.

Electric cars can cost a few thousand dollars more than their gas-guzzling counterparts up front, and research by the International Council on Clean Transportation estimates that it will take a few years before the prices equalize — particularly for the longer-range varieties that drivers will need to make it through a long shift.

Buying and installing a curbside or residential charger, meanwhile, can cost anywhere from $3,000 to a whopping $14,000, according to the TLC report. Rideshare drivers typically make between $14,000 and $60,000 per year, according to data from the taxi and limousine agency.

A patchwork of grants, subsidies and federal programs exist to help prospective electric vehicle drivers manage the costs of switching over. In their 2022 report, TLC recommended that city agencies help drivers apply for these grants and even develop a few incentives of their own, funded by federal aid or a surcharge on rideshare trips.

Other logistical challenges will still need to be solved. Electric vehicle chargers are few and far between outside Manhattan, and their distribution doesn’t line up with where rideshare drivers tend to live and drive. The chargers that do currently exist may not be practical for rideshare drivers, who can use slower chargers overnight but need special fast chargers to top up during shifts.

LaGuardia Airport, for example, one of the most frequent rideshare destinations, doesn’t have a single fast charger, although that’s set to change later this year. TLC has also promised to open up publicly accessible fast chargers at its safety and emissions inspection facility in Woodside.

The city is also working on switching its own municipal fleet over to electric vehicles, albeit not without challenges: electric garbage trucks struggled to plow through snow last winter.