By Andy Katz Queens Daily Eagle
The day was a fairly typical late-August weekday—traffic snarled early on the BQE; heat advisories from Albany and City Hall warned residents to move about with caution, and a thin, smog-like pall covered Manhattan Island. Nevertheless, something unusual was taking place in front of a small, Bushwick storefront. Billed by sponsor Revel Transit as a “Rush Hour Race,” the idea was simple: seven people would travel from Revel’s Cypress Avenue headquarters to Long Island City’s Court Square Diner using Uber, Uber Pool, a Citi Bike, the MTA subway, a traditional taxi, buses and, of course, one of Revel Transit’s recently unveiled electric mopeds.
“We had the idea for this in January,” Co-founder and CEO Frank Reig said. “By July, we were ready to go.”
“The idea started out in a very nebulous form,” said Co-Founder and COO, Paul Suhey, laughing.
Although simple in conception—providing a fleet of dockless, electric mopeds to be leased via smartphone app in much the same way Brooklyn’s Car2Go system works—there were problems to overcome. Because the Spanish-made Torrot mopeds are battery-powered and considered “Class B” vehicles by New York State, riders do not require additional licensure beyond a standard driver’s license. That also means their lithium batteries won’t go beyond 55 miles or so, depending on speed and grade. Revel addresses this by tracking each moped with GPS. Using an SUV, employees drive around with spare batteries, replacing those that are nearly spent.
“In some instances, we won’t let a customer take a moped with a weak battery,” said Revel Customer Service Manager Chris Falls. “We want to make certain they’re able to get where they’re going.”
After downloading the Revel Transit app, customers pay a one-time $25 fee to sign up. A background check is performed; users must be at least 21 years old, possess a valid driver’s license with no DUIs and no speeding citations less than two years old. Customers who lack experience with mopeds are required to view a 30-minute safety video on YouTube, or can receive personalized instruction at company headquarters. Each moped sports a large trunk where the helmet is stored. Once the bike is engaged, the trunk unlocks, the customer retrieves the helmet and goes on his or her way. Upon reaching their destination, the customer replaces the helmet in the trunk. When it closes, the rental is terminated.
“So far we’ve had no serious accidents or breakdowns,” Falls said. Weekday utilization for the fleet of 68 is about three rides per moped per day. Some weekends it’s double that. “Last Saturday I went home at 3, and we were already up to 110 rides,” Falls said.
Kickoff for the starting post is 8:30 a.m.—the black heart of rush hour. The contestants huddle, planning their strategies.
“I’m not sure how I’m going to go,” said Mirjam Grunenfelder, assigned to use a taxi. “If I can find one, yellow or green.”
“Did they at least call a cab for you?” the Eagle reporter asked.
“No. I’m completely on my own,” Grunenfelder said with a laugh.
MTA bus rider Brittany Pavon can hop on the B57/Flushing Av/Cypress Av line, with a bus stop just one block away, but that won’t even get her as far as the Queens border. After that, she’s on her own, too. Subway rider Travis Shannon will hop on the soon-to-close L line, transfer to the G line at Lorimer Street and ride that to the end of its line at Court Square. The Uber and Uber Pool riders ready their apps to summon rides. For Citi Bike rider Michael White, the nearest station is Bushwick Avenue and Meserole Street in East Williamsburg, about six blocks away.
Meanwhile, Revel moped rider Reig just straps his helmet on, and, without a sound, takes off.
It should come as no surprise whatever that Reig arrived at the Court Square Diner first, well ahead even of the Eagle’s unofficial race “entrant,” a Yamaha V-Star 1300.
“I was able to pull ahead of the gridlock,” Reig told reporters there. “Of course I still had to wait for traffic lights and stop at signs, but the size and maneuverability gave me advantages.”
With the L Train shutdown looming in 2019, no decent corridor connecting North and South Brooklyn, and an increasing volume of trucks, buses and automobiles competing for space on existing roads, Revel Transit’s Rush Hour Race might have been more than a trip from Brooklyn to Queens; it might very well be a journey into NYC’s future.