BY ISAAC SULTAN | Recently, a new kind of vehicle can be spotted amid the familiar flow of yellow cabs, Lyfts, Ubers, buses and bicycles in New York City’s traffic. Revel — the moped ride-sharing service founded in 2018, has swelled to nearly 300,000 registered users in New York — but not everyone is along for the ride.
Revel has found rapid success since launching a pilot program in Brooklyn two years ago with 68 of its black-and-turquoise mopeds. Now, 3,000 of the two-wheeled electric-powered vehicles are zipping through the city streets.
Accessed through a mobile app, after a one-time $5 driver’s license verification fee, the bikes cost $1 to unlock and 35 cents a minute to ride. Revel users must end their rides in one of the approved service zones, which continue to expand.
Use of the motorbikes has surged so far this summer as social-distancing New Yorkers seek a potentially safer alternative to crowded subways and buses. According to a company representative, more New Yorkers have signed up to ride Revels in the last two months than in all of 2019.
Along with this momentum, Revel has gained even more attention than ever in recent weeks — but not for the right reasons.
Last Saturday, 26-year-old CBS reporter Nina Kapur died in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, after falling off the back of a Revel moped. It was the first-ever reported casualty involving the ride-sharing bikes. Neither Kapur nor the man who was driving the moped wore helmets.
Kapur’s death occurred just days after the company sent a disapproving e-mail to its New York City riders with the subject line “Hey NY, we need to talk.” The e-mail was prompted by a barrage of tweets directed at Revel that exposed some of its users’ reckless and irresponsible driving. In the tweets, Revel riders are captured committing various infractions, like riding in parks, bike lanes, over bridges and without helmets (which are provided in the mini-trunk of every Revel).
“Thank you for reporting this in. We will identify and suspend the rider responsible,” the company replied to nearly every post online.
— jamtheeskimo (@jamtheeskimo) July 20, 2020
“We can’t believe we have to say this, but no running red lights,” the company wrote in its e-mail, sounding more like a frustrated parent than a multimillion-dollar company.
“We’re focused on taking swift action to address the behaviors of the small portion of riders committing safety violations, as we’re firmly committed to public safety and the health of our communities.”
Revel suspended more than 1,000 New York riders for breaking the rules.
According to Revel, its vehicles are designed to not exceed 29 miles per hour — a crucial number, because in New York State a motorcycle license is required for bikes that exceed 30 mph. For Revel critics, it’s this low barrier to entry that makes the little bikes such a big problem.
“New York City is not the proper place to be learning for the first time how to ride a scooter. It’s not all that far off from a motorcycle,” said lawyer Daniel Flanzig, who represents two people bringing personal-injury suits against Revel in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
A pair of Revel representatives recently gave a presentation at the Manhattan Borough Board’s latest monthly meeting and were met with a number of complaints about the mopeds’ influx into the borough. (The Borough Board includes representatives of all 12 Manhattan community boards.)
Several community board reps were irritated that Revel expanded into their districts without any prior consultation. The Revel spokespersons countered that they had done outreach.
Borough Board members shared anecdotes of the motorbikes improperly stationed in parks and zooming along bike lanes and even on highways. One member asked what is being done about the problem of “account sharing,” where an older person can rent a Revel and then let “a 15-year-old” ride it. Board reps also said that Revel riders who need training should get it.
Former Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who is now Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s director of community affairs, noted she was recently surprised to see a Revel cruising along on the Harlem River Drive.
The Revel reps noted their motorbikes are especially popular in so-called “transportation deserts.” Michael Marino, first vice chairperson of Community Board 3, said the Lower East Side definitely fits that description and they have been seeing a lot of the vehicles scooting around.
The issue of Revel’s explosive growth in Manhattan also came up at the full-board meeting of Greenwich Village’s Community Board 2 on Thurs., July 23.
Carter Booth, the board’s chairperson, noted he was “almost hit” by Revels twice in just the past week.
“Whatever’s going on now, it’s a huge issue,” Booth said. “And it’s just not safe. It’s a really big issue that seems to have expanded dramatically in the past couple of weeks.
“I don’t think Revel users realize they could lose their license for some of the things they’re doing.”
Revel General Manager Lauren Vriens explained the company takes these violations very seriously and is working internally and collaboratively with New York City officials to improve how Revel operates in New York.
For now, though, there might be some pushback: With 18,000 daily Revel rides in the city, barring a major reversal, the mopeds could be here to stay.
“I know there are issues,” Vriens said, “but we are definitely seeing this become part of the fabric of how people get around in New York City.”