New York City is the greatest city in the world, some of us are led to believe. Skyscrapers, a melting pot of global talent, a bustling art and culture scene—the list goes on. But among its glories, New York’s electric vehicle charging infrastructure is lagging far behind. It isn’t expanding in proportion to booming EV sales, overwhelming the existing (functional) chargers in the city, and the situation is negatively impacting the businesses of increasingly electric rideshare drivers.
A few days back, a Tesla owner took to X, the social media network formerly called Twitter, with a distress signal. “SOS, here’s a photo of what is happening at Brooklyn NYC Tesla Supercharger. It’s impossible to charge the car. Help us please,” the driver pleaded to CEO Elon Musk. The accompanying image showed a traffic jam of Teslas in a parking lot.
Since the Coney Island station was just a train ride away from InsideEVs’ headquarters in midtown Manhattan, I went on the ground to investigate the matter myself. What I found was a huge surge of rideshare drivers who went electric thanks to changing New York City rules around what kinds of cars can get a for-hire license, but got very little in the way of charging support in return.
This Supercharger is located in the parking lot of a Raymour and Flanigan furniture store on the southernmost tip of Brooklyn. It’s flanked by a Starbucks drive-thru on one side, and a veterinary center on the other, while the street is lined with automotive repair shops. The parking lot, an eyesore with dangling transmission cables and canted wooden light poles, houses 12 Tesla dispensers and four EVgo stalls. All the EVgo chargers were out of order, which is unfortunately not surprising.
Thursday, January 18, 2024, New York City: The freestanding Supercharger is overcrowded because of limited charging options in the vicinity. InsideEVs/Suvrat Kothari
Ride-Hail Challenges As NYC Goes Electric
The sight of Teslas lining up outside charging stations is nothing new; we’ve seen that before. But at this particular location, the long lines have been persistent ever since the station opened a few weeks ago, said Bezgod Hoja, an Uber driver of Turkish descent.
Hoja, sitting in a white Model S P85D, wearing a black puffer jacket and blue jeans, said, “I [regularly] wait here for one hour just to get to the charging stall, and then another hour to get at least 80% range.”
Hoja is a resident of the nearby Seagate neighborhood on Coney Island, just five blocks away from this station. He said Tesla installed all the dispensers back in March 2023 but didn’t activate them until the end of last year. He said the station wasn’t granted the required permissions by the city for a long time. (InsideEVs could not independently verify this claim, although New York is notoriously slow when it comes to the permitting process.)
When I visited last week, there were 20 EVs lined up at this station, and an additional 12 were charging—most of them Teslas with Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) plates—this has evolved from being a temporary inconvenience into somewhat of an enduring feature. Last year, the New York City TLC enforced a new mandate that essentially requires new for-hire vehicle (FHV) licenses to be electric. The TLC’s move was aimed at increasing the volume of zero-emissions FHVs in the city to make the fleet greener, tackle air pollution, and reduce the reliance on gas cars. And drivers seem to have embraced this change.
Since the rule kicked in last year, TLC has approved over 4,700 applications from private owners and rideshare companies and continues to grant more approvals.
But drivers might purchase EVs, obtain federal incentives (now at the point of sale), register for TLC plates, and spend hundreds of dollars in insurance, only to run into an insufficient charging network.
Nowhere Else To Go
When I asked Hoja why he didn’t pick an alternative Supercharger, he responded with dismay. “Where?” he said pointing his finger to the map on his Model S’s infotainment screen, revealing long wait times at all Superchargers in the city. The journey to JFK Airport, the only other Tesla Supercharger in the city without parking fees, entailed an hour-long drive.
Similarly, a trip to two downtown Brooklyn stations—with pay and park—during peak hours took 40 minutes, and the wait times, as indicated on the map, were just as long. (It’s not clear if any of the drivers I talked to knew about, or have used, the EV fast-charger stations installed by ride-hail startup Revel. Those stations do not have parking fees, only charging fees.)
Ellie Simpson, another Uber driver and a wedding planner, faced the same issue. Clad in a furry dark brown and white overcoat, she was sitting in a black Model Y Performance. The warm air from the Model Y’s air vents momentarily comforted my frozen hand as I pulled up the recorder to her. “I’m a single mom of three. I’m losing an hour and a half of my earnings a day doing this, just waiting in the line, when that could be more money and more food for my children,” Simpson said in an exasperated voice.
Uber drivers earn between $35-50 an hour, contingent on demand, according to Simpson. “This is one of the few stations in the city where you don’t have to pay for parking, so that’s why it’s driving a lot of attention. And with the cold climate, we must charge more frequently,” she added. A few days ago, she arrived at the station with five percent battery left, and by the time she plugged in, the battery drained to one percent.
Simpson was disappointed with the congestion fee at high-traffic Superchargers. To keep the lines moving at these stations, and to discourage customers from charging their EVs to 100%, Tesla now commands a $1 fee for each minute the vehicle remains plugged in after reaching 80 percent state of charge. Charging speeds peak when the battery levels are low, gradually slowing down as they approach full capacity.
Thursday, January 18, 2024, New York City: Drivers said the Superchargers worked well despite the freezing conditions since they’re in use 24/7. InsideEVs/Suvrat Kothari
“Living in NYC, most of us cannot charge at home, and this station is 30 minutes from my house. So I should be able to charge to maximum capacity. Instead of charging us, they [Tesla and local authorities] should focus on getting more freestanding stations,” Simpson said.
In a letter Simpson plans to send to Uber, she has said, “The incentives offered by Uber for having an EV do not compensate for the lost drive time and earnings. At this point, being part of a rideshare program has become more of a burden than a benefit.”
This Brooklyn Supercharger is also open to non-Tesla EVs with CCS compatibility. Segundo, a taxi driver helming a first-generation Hyundai Ioniq Electric, voiced concerns about the long lines and reduced range in the winter affecting his earnings. With the heat off, the Ioniq Electric delivers 190 miles of range, but that figure drops to 160 miles with the heat on, he said.
“Recently, a customer wanted to go to Connecticut. I agreed but requested a 30-minute charging time before heading out. They declined, and I lost hundreds of dollars just because of the long lines,” he said. “And the cold makes matters worse. I can drive up to eight hours in the summer, but this car needs charging every six hours in a winter like this,” he said, pointing both his hands frustratedly at the battery reading on his gauge cluster.
Both Tesla and Uber seem to be aware of the drivers’ problems. Last week, Uber told Axios that it was now sharing data with Tesla, starting with New York City, about the most popular routes for drivers to help narrow down the areas where charging infrastructure is the most needed.
“The cost of ownership and access to convenient charging are the top two barriers preventing them [Uber drivers] from going electric, and we are excited to work with Tesla to tackle both of these issues,” Andrew Macdonald, senior vice president of mobility and business operations at Uber, told Axios.
Back at the Tesla Supercharger on Coney Island, three other drivers who didn’t want to be named echoed similar concerns. But not everyone was bothered. Two private owners, who weren’t taxi drivers, said they didn’t mind waiting in the line once or twice a week.
One of them, a truck driver by profession, didn’t drive his Model Y as much, and another one, killing time playing Candy Crush, said the line was moving fast. It wasn’t. But for rideshare drivers (and all EV drivers for that matter), who according to some estimates cover between 100 and 300 miles each day, a more robust charging infrastructure should have come a lot sooner.
“People don’t have to blame Tesla. Tesla is doing its best. It’s the city, state, and the authorities who are not accelerating this adoption. The gas monopoly needs to stop,” said Hoja.