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As NY Taxi Commission Prepares for Historic Vote, Dissent Looms

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Livery Cab (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission is poised to vote tomorrow on a set of rules to pave the way for a historic change in the way New Yorkers can hail cabs.   Beginning this summer, if the rules pass, New Yorkers will be able to hail cabs in all five boroughs, not just Manhattan.

But there's dissent among some of the commissioners about whether the 200 pages of regulations that will govern the service is being rushed to a vote.

Some on the nine-member board of the TLC say they’d like more time to consider the repercussions and make necessary tweaks to the plan.

And TLC Commissioner David Yassky is frantically trying to settle the biggest differences before the vote (for a peek at his internal memo, click here).

Queens Commissioner Norah Marino thinks there should be more time to digest the biggest change in the industry in more than 70 years.

“We just got the amended rules a couple of days ago. It’s not enough time to make a responsible decision,” Marino said. She’d like to have at least a few more months to digest the proposal.  I know the city wants to sell these permits but that’s not a valid reason to rush this vote. "This is changing the landscape of an industry — it’s not a minor vote.”

The street hail livery plan will allow owners and drivers of for-hire vehicles to pick up passengers in Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Queens (excluding the airports), and Manhattan north of West 110th and East 96th streets.

Staten Island Commissioner Elias Arout would also like to delay a vote. He said he has serious concerns about whether it’s good for Staten Island in the first place, but would like to have more time to consider the possible effects on his borough’s livery industry. “We’re trying to ask Chairman Yassky to extend the vote for a few months but he wants this done Thursday,” he explained.

TLC Spokesman Allan Fromberg said they have every expectation of moving forward with a vote this week as planned.

The plan to deliver legal street hail livery service beyond Manhattan where most yellow cabs operate has been a central focus of Bloomberg administration over the past year. The eagerness to complete the process is also budgetary, since the billion dollars in expected revenue from the scheduled yellow medallion auction this summer is tied to the sale of the first livery street hail licenses.

Commissioner Frank Carone of Brooklyn said he’s prepared to cast his vote in support because TLC has agreed to make some last minute rule changes. In the most recent TLC memo to commissioners, Commissioner Yasky addresses some of the last minute changes, including increasing penalties for accepting street hails outside the upper Manhattan zone, where the street hail liveries are banned from picking up passengers. Carone also thinks moving forward is the best for all concerned. “The industry needs closure,” he said.

While upper Manhattan Councilman and former livery driver Ydanis Rodriguez  supports the overall plan, he hopes the TLC exercises some caution as they move to implement it. “I believe it’s a good initiative but now is the time to look at the details so that the users, the livery divers, and base owners have a clear understanding. We should take the time that is needed to make sure we have a good plan,” he said.

The public hearing and TLC vote on the livery hail draft rules will be held at Brooklyn Borough Hall at 9 a.m. on the April 19.

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Transportation Nation

NY Passes Law Allowing New Category of Taxi

Monday, June 27, 2011

(Photo: Karly Domb Sadof)

(Kathleen Horan, WNYC -- New York) The New York State legislature voted Friday to approve the sale of permits allowing a new class of livery vehicle to enter the street hail businesses, something that up until now has been widely practiced but officially off limits. Up to 30,000 permits will be available.

Yellow cabs move more than 600,000 people each day in New York — and 97 percent of all yellow street hail taxi pickups are in Manhattan or at area airports, according to data from New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The plan to offer expanded taxi options is a big win for Mayor Michael Bloomberg after six months of hard fought negotiations. The political wrangling over the bill began soon after Bloomberg announced his intention to offer more legal, safe taxi options to the 80 percent of the city’s population who live outside of Manhattan.

He may not have guessed the fight the city would have on its hands — the plan changed a number of times as the stakeholders in the taxi industry waged a battle for a piece of the very lucrative pie.

Livery bases who relied on pre-arranged calls opposed the plan. But bases and drivers — who had been flouting the law by accepting illegal street hails anyway — mostly supported the idea.

One of the most powerful and vocal opponents were yellow taxi fleet owners who operate garages and rent their medallions to drivers. They feared losing their exclusive right to street hails would devalue their investments.

The medallion system has been in place since 1937. The city passed a law known as the Haas Act at a time when it had an excess number of cabs and sold the licenses for $10. At recent auctions, medallions have fetched between $600,000 and just under a million dollars apiece.

It's not only the fleets who wanted to keep things the same; the small brokers, banks and other lenders who finance the sale of the pricey medallions do, too.

There are currently about $5 billion in outstanding loans on medallions, according to Richard Kay of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners. LOMTO is a credit union with about $100 million in assets. There are currently only about 3,000 owner-drivers out of more than 49,000 licensed drivers operating yellow medallion taxis.

Kay said lenders may be reluctant to put up money in the next medallion sale because of the new changes.

And he's confounded why the legislation passed because, of the dozen senators he discussed the legislation with, "every one said they don't like the plan but they have to vote for it anyways because someone is twisting their arm."

The Mayor, a major political donor in Albany, has been applying constant political pressure to get the measure passed.

But it's still unclear who will gain the most from new taxi rules.

"This is a battle of interest groups and these are powerful groups that have built up significant interest over decades," said professor Edward Rogoff, an economist who studies the taxi industry.

"In most parts of the outer boroughs, people can already get street hails, albeit illegally," he said. "The city will benefit because it will create more licensing fees and through enforcements."

But Mayor Bloomberg says the passage of the legislation offers "an historic turning point for the riding public and solves a problem that has proven intractable for decades."

The sale of the new livery permits is scheduled to begin early next year. The livery cars will have meters, partitions, credit card readers and be required to collect the 50 cent MTA surcharge that taxis currently do. They'll also have distinctive markings or paint that sets them apart from both yellow cabs and other livery vehicles.

Opponents of the legislation hope that the delayed sale of new permits will give them time to pursuade Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto the bill or, if it is signed, possibly block the plan in court.

In addition, the auction of an additional 1,500 yellow taxi medallions is scheduled for next July. The sale is expected to bring in over a billion dollars in revenue to the city.

 

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Transportation Nation

Just How Do Livery Cabs Make Money?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

NYC Livery Cab (Photo: Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Ilya Marritz, WNYC) It's a quirky New York phenomenon -- there's the yellow cab world, which (unlike many cities around the world) can be hailed on the street most places in Manhattan and in small pockets of the outer boroughs, like Brooklyn Heights, a tony neighborhood just across the Brooklyn Bridge.

But then there's the world of livery cabs -- on call services, patronized by many New Yorkers who are too poor (or can't be bothered) to own a car.  New York has the lowest car ownership rates of any large city in the country.

And livery cabs tend to be run by groups of aspiring immigrants, many of them from South or Central America.

But when it comes to catching a cab, New Yorkers living outside of Manhattan often have a tough time. This year, New York Mayor  City Bloomberg proposed to allow car services, also known as liveries, to make curbside pickups. But there’s a catch – they’d have to install meters.

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