As for-hire cars flood city streets, New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has asked the City Council for help in curbing the expansion of Uber and similar e-hail companies.
Since 2011, the number of for-hire cars on city streets has grown from 50,000 to 130,000, with “the overwhelming majority” of the growth due to transportation network companies (TNC) like Uber and Lyft, according to Meera Joshi, the administration’s Taxi and Limousine Commission chair, in a hearing of the council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles.
Current law requires the TLC to approve all driver applications meeting the licensing requirements, which has led to the explosive growth of drivers on the city streets. Out of 3,000 new drivers added to the system monthly, two-thirds are for-hire drivers. A 2017 study found that TNC cars are often empty, slightly more frequently than yellow cabs, worsening congestion.
The council is considering three bills. One would regulate TNC cars under a new category (they are currently lumped in with black cars). Among other requirements, the bill would charge a $2,000 fee on every car linked to a TNC app and force each car to affiliate with a single base, a tactic typically used in New York to regulate black cars.
The other two, introduced by Upper Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, would cap the number of cars in the city and require the TLC to consider “the possible adverse effects on the quality of life, traffic congestion, sidewalk congestion, parking availability, noise and the environment” whenever a new black car base requests a license.
Joshi endorsed the idea of capping the number of cars affiliated with each base. “We support a growth limitation, whether the cap in the form that it was proposed in 2015 is appropriate now given the growth and given the amount of information we have…it’s worthwhile to reassess the mechanism,” Joshi told AM New York, referencing the 2015 proposal to cap new driver licenses, which the de Blasio adminstration dropped after intense pushback from Uber and riders.
While Joshi expressed support for the cap, she opposed the part of the bill that would charge app-linked cars $2,000 annually, warning the council that doing so would only create more financial burdens for drivers already scraping by. She also opposed the rule barring drivers from driving with more than one base, noting that half of for-hire drivers work for more than one base.
The Independent Drivers Guild, an organization that represents drivers for Uber and Lyft, demonstrated Monday at City Hall against the measures. “People have been putting in 12 or 14 hours [a day] just to make minimum wage,” driver Aziz Bah, 45, told the Washington Post.
The proposed changes come on top of a $2.75 surcharge imposed by the state on all single-passenger e-hail rides in Manhattan below 96th Street (yellow cab rides will get a $2.50 increase, and group rides like Via and UberPool will be charged $.75 per customer). Both Lyft and Uber have said they support the surcharge but believe it should apply to all vehicles.
Joshi told the council that she predicted backlash from the TNC sector again. “We know firsthand the challenges that lie before you,” she said. Uber and Lyft have yet to make public statements on the proposed legislation.
Rachel Kaufman is a journalist covering transportation, sustainability, science and tech. Her writing has appeared in Inc., National Geographic News, Scientific American and more.