The New York City Council is voting on Wednesday on a series of measures which would significantly harm ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, after a handful of bills were formally presented to the City Council last Wednesday.
The bills, supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Council Speaker Corey Johnson, are widely expected to pass – and include a one-year cap on new taxis while the city studies the booming industry. The legislation would also allow New York City to set a minimum pay rate for drivers.
“This legislative package we believe will bring fairness to an industry experiencing an upheaval,” Speaker Corey Johnson told The Wall Street Journal. “We think it will reduce congestion and help drivers.”
In June, we noted the epidemic of New York cab driver suicides, as lifelong drivers have watched their retirements vanish as the value of a once-coveted taxi medallion has cratered, and the ultra-competitive ride-sharing services have kept driver wages low.
“In the past five years, sale prices of taxi medallions, a license to pick up street hails in Manhattan, have plummeted from more than $1 million to less than $200,000.” –WSJ
In May, taxi driver Yu Mein Chow, a 56-year-old immigrant living in Queens, was found dead – floating down the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge. Seven years ago, Chow financed a $700,000 taxi medallion that allowed him to operate a cab throughout the city. Shortly after, he realized with the introduction of ridesharing apps that his ability to service the debt was unsustainable; only instead of declaring bankruptcy, he chose to end his life.
The ride-hailing companies argue that their businesses add value to the community.
“City Council’s proposals would bring us back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for those in communities of color and outer boroughs,” said Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin, who urged council members to delay the vote so that drivers and riders could have more time to comment.
“A 12-month pause on new for-hire vehicle licenses will leave New Yorkers stranded while doing nothing to prevent congestion, fix the subways, and help struggling taxi medallion owners,” said a spokeswoman for Uber.
Following an unsuccessful 2015 bid by de Blasio to cap ride-hailing companies in 2015, the services have ballooned in popularity throughout the city. As the Journal notes, “At that time, there were 25,000 ride-hailing vehicles on the streets, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Today, there are more than 80,000 such vehicles. They dwarf the roughly 30,000 livery and traditional black cars, 13,587 yellow taxis and 2,300 green taxis.”
Uber and Lyft have also been blamed for adding to New York’s notorious road congestion.
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said Wednesday’s vote “sends a message of hope and solidarity to a workforce that has struggled in isolation for too long.”
Ride-hailing companies say they provide a service to people traditionally neglected by the taxi industry, such as those in the outer boroughs and people of color who are sometimes avoided by cabdrivers. They add that they also provide an alternative for commuters who are regularly let down by the city’s subway and bus systems.
Lead sponsor of the minimum wage bill, Councilman Brad Lander, appeared at a Tuesday rally in support of the legislation, saying that the package of bills “puts New York City on a path to sensible regulation of for-hire vehicles.”