A bill put forward to the City Council Committee on Transportation today would cap the number of cars that services like Uber can add. Under the bill, backed by the Taxi & Limousine Commission, “for hire vehicle” (FHV) services with a base of more than 500 drivers would only be able to increase their fleet by 1% each year.
As the bill was read, two distinct camps gathered outside City Hall. On the one side: a handful of brightly colored, turbaned yellow cab drivers, bearing signs reading “Do Not Disturb Peace of City” and “Please Save Yellow Cab.” Opposite them: a black-shirted Uber-logoed mass handing out sandwiches and free t-shirts.
The bill aims to study the impact of the rapidly expanding FHV industry on “traffic congestion, air quality, noise, and public health,” according to the official testimony submitted earlier today by Meera Joshi, TLC commissioner to the City Council Committee on Transportation. In order to do so, according to Joshi’s testimony, the bill suggests capping FHV growth for one year (or earlier, depending on the duration of the study) in order to “develop informed policy” that will mitigate any identified impacts.
“TLC currently has no authority to limit the number of licenses,” stated Joshi’s testimony, in regards to the need to halt FHV growth. “They stand alone in the private for-hire world as the sector without a meaningful growth oversight mechanism.”
Josh Mohrer, Uber’s general manager, argued against the bill. “It would kill 10,000 jobs, increase commuter wait time and kill service to the outer boroughs — basically it will end Uber as you know it,” he told a crowd of around 60 gathered on the steps of City Hall while Joshi read her testimony in the City Council meeting.
With 26,000 registered vehicles, Uber still only represents roughly “1% of the total amount of the 2.7 million cars that enter Manhattan every day,” Mohrer noted. “If they aim to study congestion to try and better understand the causes, why halt the growth of Uber and kill 10,000 jobs in the process? There is no precedent to freeze the subject of a study while it’s being studied.”
Joshi’s testimony countered this point, arguing that by preventing “runaway growth,” the City Council would be able to “make better use of the study’s findings.”
In terms of this “runaway growth,” Mohrer noted that with Uber’s increase in demand the result of this bill’s passing would mean adding only 200 vehicles into operation over the next year, severely limiting employment opportunities at a time when jobs are at a premium. “It’s about stifling competition for the taxi industry, putting the interests of medallion millionaires above those of New York riders and drivers,” said Mohrer.
Gurpreet Singh, driver of a yellow cab for the past 21 years and owner of two medallions, thinks it’s less about stifling competition and more about creating an equal playing field. “The yellow cab is a hail cab and Uber is an e-hail cab. But, they [Uber] are misinforming customers and picking up fares illegally,” said Singh, who complained along with his fellow drivers that Uber was cannibalizing their business, particularly along the JFK-Manhattan route. “This is our city, we want to be safe and do everything legally and the city must understand our problems.”
Adressing this, Joshi’s statement proposed the need to better commission the existing FHV drivers. Based on the “250 to 700” summonsed for illegal street hails, she felt they “would welcome more legitimate dispatch work.” (The New York Post recently reported that between April 29 and June 15, the Taxi and Limousine Commission seized 496 Uber-affiliated cars for picking up illegal street hails.)
“We don’t stand by any driver that’s breaking the law,” said Mohrer. “Picking up a street hail would not be in line with FHV rules and we don’t support them, they ought not to do that.”