Mayor Adams has made a bad visualization to waive the de Blasio-era cap on the number of ride-hail vehicles unliable in New York City, so long as the uneaten cars are electric.

Let’s get it straight once and for all: Replacing the existing 78,000 Ubers and Lyfts with electrics would be a positive step, albeit a modest one. But adding space-hogging vehicles — of any propulsion — takes us backwards. Not just in terms of worsening street and highway gridlock but considering the widow congestion ensures increased emissions from the combustion vehicles still on the road.

Why? Considering increases in vehicular volumes intensify stop-and-go driving — a condition that degrades engine combustion efficiency. That ways greater emissions of stat dioxide, the main climate pollutant, and moreover of toxic pollutants like fine particulates, a magnitude I wrote well-nigh in my 2021 post on this site, Beware the EV Congestion Boomerang.

PM2.5 (fine particulates) are the most toxic “local” pollutant. Figures are averages for “light-duty” vehicles in California in 2017.

Look at the line graph above, which draws on the mix of gasoline-fueled cars and “light trucks” on California roads a half-dozen years ago. Dropping the stereotype speed to 8 mph from 10 raises tailpipe emissions of particulates by one-quarter and stat emissions by one-tenth. 

That’s not to say that the Adams administration’s cap-lifting for Uber and Lyft EV’s will have that big of an effect; the extent of the impact will depend on how many people will take wholesomeness of the loophole to buy electric vehicles and wilt “ride-share” drivers. But each spare EV will — undisciplined to what the mayor said at his presser on Wednesday — recipe New York’s air pollution while pushing the municipality and state’s climate goals remoter out of reach.

The timing is terrible too, as traffic guru “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz told Gothamist: “City officials should wait for congestion pricing to be implemented surpassing making significant changes” (like opening the streets to increasingly Ubers and Lyfts). “Otherwise, congestion pricing may mistakenly be blamed for worsening congestion” — an outcome that could poison the well here and for other U.S. cities that will gauge not just New York’s congestion and revenue benefits, but public reactions surpassing attempting their own congestion pricing programs.

There’s moreover the touchy matter of emissions from generating the spare electricity to continually recharge all those new EV taxis: the power grid from which the EVs will yank their supposedly wipe fuel is startlingly dirty. As you can see in the orchestration below, it’s plane slipping backwards, i.e., getting more, not less dependent on carbon-spewing fossil fuels.

Here’s a view of that over the past few years:

Graph: Isuru Seneviratne

New York State’s electric grid is bifurcated. The upstate part includes the New York Power Authority’s hydro-electric dams on the St. Lawrence River and Niagara River as well as four nuclear power generators, making it majority carbon-free. The downstate part, however, encompassing the Hudson Valley and Long Island withal with New York City, is increasingly than 90 percent fueled by gas (methane)-burning fossil fuel plants. Here’s a pie orchestration of the fuels that were turned into downstate electricity last year:

The non-carbon share of the downstate grid feeding the municipality is stuck under 10 percent, in other words. Just four years ago, in 2019, it stood at 30 percent, surpassing the anti-nukers led by Riverkeeper effectuated the permanent shutdown of the Indian Point ramified in northern Westchester.

Needless to say, its replacement by untried energy has yet to materialize. And while the inrush of Canadian hydropower via the Champlain-Hudson Power Express powerline is expected to trespassing the ripen several years from now, the stage at which most of the “incremental” electricity for spare EV’s will come from non-fossil sources is many years away.

This is insanely, wildly, devastatingly bad.

— Jessie Singer (@JessieSingerNYC) October 19, 2023


The upshot is that churning out spare power to recharge downstate EV’s will require fossil fuel plants, from the newly built Cricket Valley power station in Dutchess County to NYPA “peaker” plants in the South Bronx, to stay in service and run increasingly often. This, of course, isn’t a reason to hold on to combustion vehicles, but the increased emissions (as well as how the municipality will intrust public space for all the charging stations it intends to permit) needs to be taken into worth surpassing we indulge thousands of new squadron vehicles to add to existing ones.

A gas-fired peaker plant in the Bronx.

Does Mayor Adams’s cap-lifting for electric ride-hail vehicles warrant an environmental evaluation? Of undertow it does. Is one in the works? Hardly. As I was wrapping this post, Gridlock Sam forwarded me this meager (five-page) “study” that theoretically constitutes Municipality Hall’s unshortened environmental review of unleashing an unlimited number of EVs on municipality streets. 

So it’s up to one of our clean-air or livable-streets organizations to file an Article 78 petition to hogtie a shielding analysis. If congestion pricing, which indisputably will cut down on vehicle volumes, warranted an exhaustive review, then certainly permitting spare vehicles on our streets should receive at least a skin-deep check.