It’s been a long time since a company, let alone a woke tech firm, openly said that street crime had pushed it out of The Bronx. But that’s exactly what Revel, the blue-moped company, cited this month in announcing a “pause” in its service there.
Don’t blame Revel, which is bizarrely honest for our techspeak times — it’s yet another sign that property crime is not victimless and the poor, as always, will bear the brunt of rising crime.
Revel operates in two tech “spaces.” In the parlance of Silicon Valley, it is a “sharing” company: It rents mopeds to anyone 21 or over with a driver’s license. You just go on the app, find a moped on the street, unlock it and return it somewhere else on the street.
It’s also a “micromobility” company. It’s supposed to provide an urban-transportation solution different from an old-fashioned subway or bus and keep you out of a car: “When I think about our competition, I think about Uber and Lyft,” co-founder Frank Reig said three years ago.
For the umpteenth time, though, the noble transformational goal of urban tech is colliding — often literally — with reality on the mean streets.
Revel, or rather its customers, hasn’t had a great start. Moped drivers with no motorcycle experience must navigate crowded streets at high speed — up to 28 miles per hour, well more than twice as fast as a regular bicycle — with no protection other than a helmet, which many fail to wear.
Revel drivers also illegally ride in narrow bike lanes and through Central Park, joining the new army of fast-moving non-pedal motorized bicycles (an oxymoron) working for food-delivery apps and making life more difficult for regular old cyclists.
There’s no evidence that we’ve reduced one danger in favor of another, from a pedestrian or cyclist perspective, by, say, reducing car and truck traffic. We’ve just added a new element to pre-existing chaos.
Now, though, we have something old-school: “We are pausing service in The Bronx due to a significant spike in thefts, which have left mopeds unusable,” the company told the Bronx Times just after Christmas.
Revel said the part you’re not supposed to say. Yet it’s not wrong: Grand larcenies in The Bronx, up 21 percent in the last two years, are just barely behind the 1993 level of 7,511 and only 21 percent lower than their 1990 peak.
Funny that “small” property crimes are supposed to have no relationship to violent crime, supposedly discrediting the broken-windows theory — but both are up at the same time.
Revel’s brazen honesty — obviously it missed the “Thou shalt never speak ill of The Bronx” day in tech-bro school — is good for New York City. If Gotham’s government fails to keep the streets safe and secure, the city’s poorest residents will suffer.
If one accepts the argument that Revel scooters are yet another transportation “option,” they’re no longer an option in the city’s neediest borough.
Revel isn’t the only tech company caught out by the city’s fast-deteriorating crime situation. A group of Indiana college students rented an Airbnb apartment in Bushwick in late 2020, figuring the brand made it safe. One of them, Ethan Williams, was randomly shot to death on the stoop.
Revel’s Bronx cheer also shows that tech is never going to replace, or even much supplement, mass transit. Indeed, Revel also offers an electric e-hail service (the blue cars) only in core Manhattan.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority can’t stop bus service in The Bronx just because a gunman shot up the BX39 last week; nor can it stop subway service there because the first subway murder of the year happened to be underneath Fordham Road.
Generations of minority cabbies were called racist for not wanting to go to the outer boroughs. Some probably were, but fear also governed their on-the-spot decisions, with dozens of cabbies murdered a year in the early 1990s.
Revel may be a fun — if dangerous — thrill. Until it can offer its services without the blunt tool of crime-based geographic discrimination, considered a general no-no in New York City for decades (ask the bankrupt yellow cabbies), it’s not a public-transportation option. Tech can pick up and leave; Bronx residents can’t.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.