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NYC's Disabled Can Now Call A Cab Without Wave Or Whistle

Friday, September 14, 2012

There are only 233 taxis with ramps in NYC. (photo by Jim O'Grady)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Handicapped New Yorkers now have several ways to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab--no whistle or wave necessary—as long as they're in Manhattan.

The city has launched a dispatch system that lets disabled riders summon one of New York's 233 wheelchair-friendly cabs by telephone, text, the internet, or a free smartphone app called “Wheels on Wheels.” Until now, the only way to catch a cab with space for a wheelchair was by calling New York's helpline, 311.

The "Accessible Dispatch" app allows a disabled rider to request a taxi from a dispatcher in Connecticut. The dispatcher uses a GPS system to locate the nearest cab-with-ramp (see photos) and sends it to the rider, who can chart the cab's approach by phone.

When offered a trip, the cabbie must accept it within two minutes and proceed directly to the rider. The dispatch service pays drivers for that travel time. Yellow cab medallion owners pay $98 a year to fund the program; no tax dollars are used.

An alternate design for wheelchair-accessible NYC taxi. (Photo by Alex Goldmark)

The fare is the same as for any cab ride. Drivers must take a disabled rider anywhere in the five boroughs, Westchester and Nassau Counties, and the three major area airports. Riders must be in Manhattan if they want to use technological means to hail a wheelchair-accessible cab.

By city rule, regular yellow cabs can pick up street hails but aren't allowed to be dispatched. The New York Taxi and Limousine Commission is making an exception for disabled riders--and the Wheels on Wheels app.

But with so few cabs designed for handicapped riders, even a swift hail by app can result in a wait of up to 30 minutes when cabs are occupied or many blocks away. NY Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky conceded it was a problem at a Friday press conference in Manhattan. “Two-hundred and thirty taxis is too few,” he said of the wheelchair-accessible cabs. “We’re going to have to put new cabs on the street.”

Early this year, the New York State legislature authorized the sale of 2,000 new wheelchair accessible cab medallions as part of a bill that would allow non-yellow cabs to take outer-borough street hails. That law is now tied up in the courts. Until the matter is resolved, the new medallions sit in limbo.

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Transportation Nation

Rethinking San Francisco's Main Drag

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Market Street (photo by Benjamin Dumas via flickr)

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

Around 250,000 people use Market Street every day— and in every way. They take the bus, ride BART, walk to work, shop... even live.

In 2016, the entire road, between Octavia and the Embarcadero, will be torn up and repaved. So city planners figure it’s the perfect time to reshape and re-imagine San Francisco’s main drag.

San Francisco’s transportation director Ed Reiskin says it’s a good opportunity for the city to do more than pour concrete.

“If we're going to go through the expense and disruption to repair the surface and infrastructure of Market Street, let's not just put it back the way it was, let's really fix it,” Reiskin says.

The Department of Public Works is in charge of the project. They’re working with a variety of city and county agencies to draw up a set of plans that balance the practical needs of the street with the vision of a wide variety of stakeholders.

The public is a part of the process, too -- the most recent public meeting was standing room only.

On the table is everything from a total ban on private cars to dedicated bike lanes; from fewer MUNI stops to more sidewalk cafes and parklets. The city anticipates the redesign to cost around $250 million. Funding for repaving is already in place.

I went out to Market to ask some of the people behind these ideas about their vision for the street.

At the corner of 3rd and Market, map-wielding tourists shiver in shorts and tank tops. A man sits on the sidewalk with his dog. The sign in his lap says ‘Anything helps.’ Throngs of office workers walk right by him, eyes fixed intently on the screens of their smartphones. Bikes squeeze in between buses and the curb, dodging taxis and delivery trucks.

Up ahead I see Mohammed Nuru. He’s the director of Public Works in San Francisco. He’s agreed to meet me here to talk about the street. “It's a pretty busy intersection, as you can see,” says Nuru. “It's busy all the time from about 7 o'clock in the morning until almost 10 o'clock at night.”

Standing next to him is Kris Opbroek. She manages the Better Market Street project.

“I think Market Street is the city's Main Street in a sense. I think it always has been, actually,” she says. “I think its identity is our parade ground, and our real civic space is still here. I think where it falls short a bit is in the day to day use.”

Nuru and Opbroek spend their days watching this street. They’re overseeing Market’s redevelopment. And they’re trying to pin down what is, and isn’t, working here.

Traffic is a big issue. Right now private cars, taxis, delivery trucks, paratransit, and bikes all share the road with streetcars and buses.

Leah Shahum is the executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Her office is at 5th and Market. She says another thing on people’s minds is how to make Market safer and more inviting for bicyclists. Bike riding is on the rise, and Market is most used bike corridor in the city.

“I talk to a lot of people who are confident riders. They're people who bike elsewhere in the city,” Shahum says. “They’re adults who really are comfortable bicycling, but they say, ‘Wow, I don't want to bike on Market Street because I'm really scared about it.’”

Right now, most of the bike lanes on Market are painted lines on narrow pieces of pavement shared with buses and trucks and cars. Only about six blocks of the street have a physically separated bike lane.

“What we hear from people is: ‘Wow, for those six blocks, I feel calm, I feel safe, I feel comfortable. This works,’” Shahum says.

She wants that kind of comfort to extend the along the entire length of Market Street.

But the road isn’t just for wheels.

Elizabeth Stampe is the executive director for Walk San Francisco. She says that, ultimately, everyone is a pedestrian. Her office is a block from Shahum’s, at 6th and Market.

“This is the place where the most pedestrians have been hit by cars in the whole city,” she says, as we stand at the busy intersection. “And you can see it's a long crossing for folks with wheelchairs and canes, of whom there are many right here. You don't really get enough time.”

Stampe says that expanding the sidewalks at corners like this would help shorten the time it takes for pedestrians to get across the street and slow down the cars fighting to get through the intersections.

Making it safer to cross the street or ride a bike might seem obvious. But there’s always a trade-off. Solving one problem creates another problem somewhere else, or else pushes it a block farther down the road.

“Market Street is a special street,” says Stampe. “It's the spine of the city. And it's a gathering spot. It’s also a little bit magnetic. Both in the sense that it attracts people, but some parts of it still repel people.”

She says the corner where she works is a good example of Market’s confused identity. “It’s about a block from the mall, but it could be a world away.”

She compares the blocks along Market to islands in a stream. In this case, one island is the upscale shopping and tourist district around Powell Street. The next is lined with abandoned storefronts. Many people are either homeless and living on the street, or live in tiny rooms in nearby SRO hotels.

San Francisco’s transportation director, Ed Reiskin, works a few blocks away at Market and Van Ness. We walked through the Civic Center and talked about the street.

“For a lot of people, this is their living room and it should continue to serve that function,” he says. “If you or I had that space, we would also want to spend more time outside than inside.”

The city estimates that about 6,000 people are without shelter on any given night in San Francisco––many on Market Street.

“There may be some undesirable activity, some criminal activity, or unsafe situations that the city wants to address regardless of what happens design-wise on Market Street,” says Reiskin. “But I don't think we want to lose the character of Market Street or push anyone off of it. We want to make it a nice place for more people to be in.”

During the day the street has different feelings. Some new businesses have moved in, joining art spaces like the Luggage Store. But compared to the bustle just a few blocks away, the street here feels empty.

At Market and Van Ness, traffic hits the city from both major bridges. It’s a gateway to San Francisco – but instead of a grand monument marking the spot, there’s a car wash and a donut shop.

“It's not just infrastructure,” says Reiskin. “It's not just design. It's economic development. It's economic vitality. So I think there's more to it than just how we lay out the streets and how we paint the lines.”

That economic vitality is an important ingredient in a complex process. Money for repaving the street is in place. But coming up with the $250 million this project is expected to cost still has to be worked out. Back at 3rd and Market, Mohammed Nuru says some of that money could come from businesses that stand to benefit from the street’s upgrade.

The intersection of 3rd and Market (image via Google Street View)

“We’re bringing the right partners onto Market Street, bringing the Twitters in, bringing the new businesses in, bringing the restaurants in, all that adds to the vitality of a street,” Nuru says. “And they contribute and they partner with us, so together we’ll try to figure out what the bill will look like.”

Ultimately, though, the project isn’t just about the street’s physical condition––it’s about its character. And that’s a big part of what city officials are considering as they re-imagine Market. What does the street mean, and what should it be?

Nuru says it’s a great opportunity to think big. “I think what this process has done is woken everybody up and made them say, ‘Wow if I had an idea, this is the time to get it in because it could happen.’”

Another public meeting is planned for the fall. Get there early—it’s likely to be standing room only.

For more information on the Better Market Street project, click here.

This is part 1 of a 3 part series on re-thinking Market Street. Check out part 2 and part 3.

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Transportation Nation

Bidding "Irregularities" Delay D.C. Taxi Upgrade

Monday, September 10, 2012

A D.C. cab at night. (Photo CC by Flickr user Daquella Manera)

(Armando Trull -- WAMU) Paying your Washington, D.C. taxicab fare using a credit card may be priceless, but those plastic transactions are still being denied while a judge sorts out a lawsuit. An upgrade to taxicab meters in D.C. has been put on hold over alleged irregularities in the bidding process.

The $35 million contract to install new electronic card readers on the entire fleet of D.C. cabs has been challenged by two of the companies that were finalists, but then lost out on the bid after being barred from the final phase of the process.

The concern by city officials now is that if the judge's decision happens after Oct. 15, it won't be sufficient time to outfit all of the cabs in the District with the new meters prior to January's presidential inauguration.

 

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Transportation Nation

Here's the New NYC Taxi Logo

Thursday, August 23, 2012

T is for (new) Taxis in New York City. (Photo by Caitlyn Kim)

New York city is giving taxis a new look. There's the taxi of tomorrow set to roll out next year, but even the motley mix of sedans and SUVs out there now are getting a new paint job. And when they do, the city's yellow cabs come back more yellow  and as this picture captures, with a new logo, fewer words, and more to the point. JFK airport gets a mention right on the door.

Here's a side-by-side comparison. (Or, top-by-bottom comparison?)

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Transportation Nation

New York City's 5 Boro Taxi Plan: Winners, Losers and What's Next

Monday, August 20, 2012

The city's new outer-boro street hails, inspired by the color of Granny Smith apples (photo: Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

New York  City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Monday he is not expecting legalized street hail service for livery car passengers "for a while."

Officials said the plan will be on hold at least until the new year, with a ruling not expected before January.

The city is appealing a State Supreme Court decision blocking the city’s plan to sell 18,000 livery street hail permits as well as 2000 yellow medallions. The estimated billion dollars in revenue from the medallion sale -- as well the expanded cab service promised by the Bloomberg administration -- hangs in the balance.

The winner so far in this saga is the powerful medallion lobby, including the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade-- chief plaintiff in the lawsuit against the 5 Boro plan. This trade association has been a successful litigant against other city taxi polices, including legally nixing a mandate several years ago by the Bloomberg administration that cabs get at least 30 miles to the gallon.

The potential losers are livery customers and drivers. The city estimates more than 120,000 -150,000 illegal street hails occur a day. Many who live beyond Manhattan and rely on non-yellow cab service said they welcome more taxi regulation for these cars—including distinctive taxi markings, so they know a taxi driver is authorized to pick up passengers--as well as greater price regulation.

Krystle James, 27, of East New York, said since livery fares can be unpredictable she tries not to hail cabs on the street, instead writing down the number of a passing livery cab and calling their office. She thinks this helps her get a firm price on the cab so there’s no haggling later.

But that’s what Tariq Mohammad, 27, from Bedford-Stuyvesant loves about livery cab hails on the street. “I’ll start off really low like $10, he’ll start off higher, $20. We’ll meet in the middle, $14-$15, I’ll give him a dollar tip. $16 bucks, I save $4,” he said.

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said he hopes livery drivers who were planning to operate legally and buy the new permits will “hang tight” as the appeal process plays out.

“We’re going to push for the fastest possible outcome”, he promised.

Sources in the both the livery and yellow cab industry expect a compromise will eventually be struck.

Guy Palumbo with Global Transportation Network Consultants said he thinks it’s time for all sides to try and finally hash out some kind of plan soon. “At this stage the liveries and the taxis should develop a workable plan so when a decision is rendered they have a way forward,"  Palumbo said.

(Stephen Nessen contributed reporting.)

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Transportation Nation

NYC Legal Battle Escalates over Adding Green "Outer-Boro" Cabs (UPDATED)

Friday, August 17, 2012

(Arun Venogopal and Brigid Bergin -- WNYC )

(UPDATED 8/20 7:45am) The city plans to appeal a state Supreme Court judge ruling that blocks New York City's plan to improve taxi service in the outer boroughs by adding a second category of taxis in addition to the city's iconic yellow cabs.

The taxi plan, which would increase street hails to the outer boroughs by adding a second category of taxi authorized to pick up passengers who flag them down on the street. In NYC, only licensed  yellow cabs are authorized to do that now.  The plan was estimated to bring in an additional $1 billion in revenue from the sale of new medallions. But without it the city faces a $635 budget million shortfall – and it’s only the second month of fiscal year 2013.

In his ruling issued Friday, the judge said the city had illegally bypassed the City Council, and that its decision to make new medallions available only to livery cab owners was unlawful.

The five-borough taxi plan would have brought additional street hail service to areas less frequented by yellow cabs: northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs. The new cabs would have been green.

A previous suit was filed by the yellow cab industry in June protesting the plan. Owners had protested, saying it would've diluted the value of their medallions.

The city will file an immediate appeal, according to Michael Cardozo, corporation counsel for the New York City Law Department.

“We are confident that the appellate court will uphold the state law authorizing two important transportation initiatives: providing safe and reliable hail service by liveries in areas of the city rarely served by yellow taxicabs, and providing 2,000 more wheelchair-accessible yellow taxicabs for disabled passengers,” said Cardozo in a statement.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn said on Sunday that she shares the disappointment over the court’s decision because it affects taxi accessibility throughout the city. She also said she was concerned about the financial implications.

“This is an important case because it deals with whether or not there will be taxi service that’s really accessible to people geographically throughout all of the city,” said Quinn.

“We will have to find ways to make up those hundreds of millions of dollars, which short of there being an unexpected increase in tax revenues, would mean we’d have to find places in the budget where we would have to cut back,” Quinn said.

(For more on the fiscal impact to NYC, see full article at WNYC.)

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky tweeted Friday: "ruling delays service for millions -- disappointing!" and conveyed the city would immediately appeal the decision.

In its statement, the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, a group representing yellow cab owners, applauded the ruling and said "Chairman David Yassky and the Administration back-doored a flawed plan in Albany and got caught. It’s that simple."

Some stakeholders expressed concern going forward.

Bhairavi Desai, who heads the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents drivers, worried that yellow cab owners would undo provisions that had finally brought her organization on board.

"Now that they would be going back to the city council, where they've had undue influence for decades, our concern is another plan would be hatched, where drivers would get caught in the crossfire."

The decision:

Engoron Decision

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Transportation Nation

12 Hours Behind the Wheel in NYC, With No Food Or Drink

Thursday, August 09, 2012

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

If you're traveling by taxi this summer, chances are your driver is hungrier than usual. Nearly half of licensed drivers in the city are Muslim—and they’re not eating because they’re observing Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and reflection. That means thousands of cabbies are working 12-hour shifts without food, water or caffeine.

Muslims break their daily fast at sundown. One recent evening, the West 29th Street curbside in Manhattan held so many taxis that the street glowed yellow. This commercial district in Manhattan has free evening parking, a boon for drivers.

Around 8 p.m., as the day's light faded, cabbies rushed into a mosque called Masjid Ar-Rhahman. A mountain of their shoes rose in the vestibule. Soon their sung prayers emanated from a loudspeaker at the top of the mosque. Outside, vendors selling prayer books and sweet treats waited patiently for the cabbies to emerge from inside.

Driver Lansana Keita was one of the first ones out. He smiled as he ate his first food of the day, a sweet rice concoction that resembled rice pudding. "You need something soft after fasting all day, to help your metabolism to digest,” he said.

Keita said his biggest obstacle during Ramadan is keeping up his stamina during a shift that typically features mind-numbing traffic, the threat of parking tickets and the never-ending drone of the TV in his backseat. He said driving on an empty stomach while dealing with the daily guff from passengers becomes a spiritual exercise.

"When someone cusses on you, you have to let it go," he said. "When someone wants to have drama with you, you have to let it go--those are the principles of Ramadan.”

Drivers who chose not to eat in the mosque huddled on the sidewalk in small groups to consume their long-awaited meals.

"I love this: it’s called pakora, samosa and chana,” said Mohammed Tipu Sultan, a driver of 10 years, about his Bangladeshi meal. Sultan made the food disappear in a hurry, like anyone would after fasting for 16 hours.

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

Driver Yehya Abdeen was on his way to get his first caffeine fix at a local cafe before resuming his night shift. He said a purpose of Ramadan is to teach patience—a trait city cabbies aren't always known for.

"I try to be nice all the time, but we try to be more nice during Ramadan," he said, before joking, "But it’s hard when you don't take your coffee, you know?"

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to pray more than the usual five times a day. So you may see drivers stopping to kneel in the direction of Mecca on squares of cardboard or small rugs in the back of bodegas and restaurants.

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

Or at JFK airport. At the airport's taxi lot, hundreds of drivers were lined up awaiting a fare to Manhattan. About two dozen drivers made use of a makeshift prayer area, bowing and kneeling next to a pair of public restrooms.

Tely Diallo, a tall driver in a gingham shirt, was about to jump into his cab again. He paused to complain that it’s hard to make enough money when you're pulling over to pray an extra two hours a day.

"You can't really do what you've got to do," he said. "You can't pray on time. I was supposed to be praying a long time ago but I couldn’t because you're always in a rush, you want to get the lease money."

(photo by Kathleen Horan)

Cabbie Mohammed Waheed said it helps that so many other drivers are fasting with him during the holy month. "The fifteen of my friends who are cab drivers—they all fast," he said.

Muslims, including many New York taxi drivers, will be observing Ramadan this year until the weekend of August 18, when the fasting ends and the completion of a month of self-control is celebrated.

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Battle with 'Arrogant' Uber Continues: To Regulate Internet Cabs or Not?

Monday, July 16, 2012

A traditional Washington, D.C taxi. (Photo CC by Flickr user Matt Peoples)

Elected officials in Washington, D.C. are having a tough time trying to regulate an upstart taxi company. The Uber sedan car service escaped the District's first official attempt to bring the  internet-based company  limiting city rules last week when Council member Mary Cheh dropped a proposal to establish a minimum fare for the luxury alternative to traditional cabs. Still, Uber's independence may not last.

(Listen to the WAMU radio story here)

Traditional Washington, D.C taxis are metered and charge a fee based on distance regulated by the local government. Livery limousine services in D.C. must agree on a fixed price before they pick up a passenger. (See regulations here.) Uber cars are in between. They are luxury sedans that charge a fluctuating, and unregulated rate calculated by a GPS meter held by the driver. The rate depends on the time of day and the number of available cars, passengers pay at the end of the ride, so ... is it a taxi or a black car, or something else? And how to regulate it, if at all?

That freedom to charge anything irks some elected officials like Cheh who plans to revive her proposal in the fall. The chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission says Uber will not be allowed to operate unregulated in the city, especially after the company introduces a cheaper, hybrid car service at an unknown date. It's a fight the Washington Post characterized as a clash of philosophies between Silicon Valley and Washington.

More broadly, the policy fight is a testing ground that might serve up important data on how much regulation is right for taxis. Will more competition and new tiers of taxis raise or lower the average fare and average customer satisfaction city wide? Will a tech-based upstart shake up the phone and street hail-based system that has reigned for decades? And is it fair for a regulated taxi to compete with an unregulated one if their price scales overlap? All of these questions are compounded because Uber and D.C. government just don't get along.

Commission Chairman Ron Linton says Uber is an "arrogant" company that "believes it should have total freedom from any government interest." Linton previously made statements hinting that he wanted to shut down Uber all together.

Uber is growing in popularity in D.C., as it has in other cities, because it's use of technology makes it easier to reserve or hail a car. Customers use Uber's smartphone app and make payments digitally with a credit card. A receipt is emailed after they reach their destinations.

The sedans are more comfortable and modern than many city taxicabs. They are also significantly more expensive, with fares climbing to $20 or more for short trips, sometimes as much as 6.5 times the metered rate. But enough working professionals are willing to pay.

"When I'm taking Uber, I want to be in comfort or I want to know it will be there when the bars are closing, says Tim Shea, 25, a project manager at George Washington University, who says he uses the car service frequently despite its high price. "They are in a completely different class of vehicle, in my opinion."

A proposal earlier this year to upgrade the District's 6,500 taxis angered taxi drivers.

Council member Cheh's proposal attempted to establish a sedan classification for taxis under would force Uber to offer a minimum $15 fare and a require Uber to provide an estimated total fare before a transaction is completed, she says. A $15 minimum would price out Uber for many short trips, giving a regulated monopoly to metered taxis. A proposal to allow street hails of livery cabs in New York drew intense criticism from existing metered drivers.

Uber did not return multiple emails seeking comment.

"I thought we were all on board," says Cheh. "It would have given Uber its legality, which was crucially important."

Both she and Chairman Linton insist they are attempting to protect consumers, not only the city's regulated taxicab industry.

"It is not necessarily the fare that has to be regulated," Linton says. "What has to be regulated is the protection of all the parties involved. There has to be recourse to resolve disagreements."

Uber is currently relieved of any liability between the driver and the passenger under the contract it signs with drivers, Linton says.

"We find that it is in the best interest of all the parties if the driver is licensed and knows all the rules he or she has to adhere to," he says.

Customers have complained to the Taxicab Commission about exorbitant fares after receiving receipts showing they were charged significantly more than they thought they agreed to pay. The confusion over fares stems from Uber's use of market-demand, or surge, pricing and hand-held meters. The commission was unable to pursue the complaints because Uber was unregulated.

A $5 ride in a traditional metered cab can cost $10 or even $20 or more with Uber depending at bar closing time, or from Union Station on a rainy night.

But Shea says the company has improved its system of notifying customers when fares may double or triple during peak demand.

"When Uber is in surge pricing there is a little logo in the corner that says 'surge' and when you click 'request a car' a big screen pops up to notify of the higher fare," Shea says. "It will show a chart that says if the normal fare is $18, it will be $36."

Uber's flexible pricing policy is considered by regulators to be unfair to the city's taxicab industry, whose fleet charges a set minimum fare plus mileage and time measured by dashboard meters.

"That's why I want to hold a hearing," says Cheh. "What demarcates taxis from the Uber service? Then we shouldn't regulate the taxis, either, and let that be a free-for-all."

While the controversy over Uber's sedan service festers until the D.C. Council returns from recess this fall, Uber is preparing to launch a new product that promises to invite another confrontation with regulators: an inexpensive service using hybrid-electric cars. The service has started in San Francisco and New York.

It's unclear if an opening for such service will be available. Chairman Linton is not granting additional taxicab licenses, and he vows that Uber will not be able to become a "predator" by running unregulated hybrid vehicles in the city that charge very low fares to undermine the city's regulated taxicab fleet. "This is a public policy issue," he says. "The community has to decide through its elected representatives if they want to allow a business operation that can change its prices any time it wants to, and you never know what you are going to pay."

As far as Tim Shea is concerned, the marketplace is working and Uber should be left alone. The more competition with city cabs, the better. "Let Uber bring in the hybrids, and I think you would see very quickly taxicab drivers learning to provide what people want," he says.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Approves 17% Cab Fare Hike

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Drivers rejoice & head of TWA Bhairavi Desai is moved to tears after the Commission's vote (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNC)

Bhairavi Desai, head of the drivers group Taxi Workers Alliance, cheering the vote with drivers (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

The price of taking a cab will be going up in the fall.

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission voted Thursday to approve a fare hike that would increase the cost of a ride by 17 percent.

The TLC estimates that the average fare of $10.44 would rise to $12.21 after the increase is expected to go into effect in September. The plan increases the mileage and waiting charges, but not the base fare of $2.50.

The flat fee between Manhattan and Kennedy Airport would jump from $45 to $52 and the surcharge to/or from Newark Liberty International Airport would also rise from $15 to $17.50.

Commissioner David Yassky said even though New Yorkers will be paying more, they also realize it’s the right time. “Most passengers that I talked to understand that after six years it’s only reasonable to increase the taxi fare,” Yassky commented.

New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission head David Yassky, speaking to press (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

Six commissioners, including Yassky, voted to approve the hike, two voted no, and one abstained.

Cabbies attending the meeting cheered as they learned the measure they fought hard for was passed.

They were also were pleased by several other aspects of the proposal, including replacing the 5 percent-per-swipe credit card fees with a flat $10.00 fee per shift charge and establishing a driver heath fund.

There had been much angling behind the scenes by large taxi fleet owners who said they also deserved an increase in leasing rates because their costs were also rising. Borough Commissioners from Staten Island, Queens and Brooklyn appeared to agree with them when they spoke and voted against the plan. Staten Island Commissioner Elias Arout described giving drivers a raise and not the garages “lopsided.”

Michael Woloz, a spokesman with the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, no stranger to litigating with the city, said they’re reviewing their options. “Time and time again when the TLC has passed unlawful rules we have fought them and the courts have affirmed our position,” Woloz said.

But Bhairavi Desai, head of the drivers group Taxi Workers Alliance, said not having to share the increase with rich medallion owners was a triumph. “We just defeated the 1 percent. We don’t have their money, their lobbyists, or their P.R. people,” a tearful Desai said. ”Today is evidence that working people can still win in this society.”

The commission said going forward, it would consider lease and fare increases every odd numbered year so that neither side of the industry had to wait so long to for an increase again.

Fares last went up in 2006 when waiting time charges increased. The last time overall cab fees rose was 8 years ago, when a 26 percent increase passed.

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Transportation Nation

NYC Cab Drivers Push for Fare Hike Ahead of TLC Vote

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Taxi drivers made their feelings known through testimony and signs (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) Cab drivers from throughout the city came out in force on Monday to push the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to approve the proposed 17 percent fare hike.

The increase, if approved later this week, would increase charge per mile but the $2.50 base rate would stay the same. The flat fare to and from JFK Airport would also jump from $45 to $52.

Speaking to a room mostly of fare-hike backers during a hearing Monday, TLC Commissioner David Yassky said he supports the measure, which would be the first time in six years that fares have increased.

"The price of a loaf of bread has gone up. A gallon of milk has gone up. Certainly, the price of a gallon of gasoline has gone way up, and I think that taxi passengers understand they have to pay for some of that,” Yassky said.

But approval of the plan isn’t a done deal. Just two of the commission’s nine TLC commissioners appeared at the hearing, and medallion owners have been angling behind the scenes.

At least one borough Commissioner, Frank Carone of Brooklyn, has said he’d vote against the proposal as it stands now because the increase doesn't meet the guidelines for rules that govern fare increases.

But the head of the Taxi Worker Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, said the wait has been too long.

“The idea that hard-working people are earning 25 percent less today than what they earned in 2006 is absolutely unacceptable,” Desai said. “After 12 long hours behind a wheel, collectively serving over a half a million people, there’s no question taxi drivers deserve to make a livable income.”

Fleet owners complained the fare proposal leaves them out. The TLC isn't considering increasing the amount garages can charge drivers for renting the taxi and medallion—otherwise known as lease caps.

Michael Woloz, spokesman for the fleet group the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, urged the commission to consider their rising costs too. He said the price of maintaining a garage is expensive.

“(To) have tow truck operators, gas stations  and mechanics that work 24 hours a day to make sure New Yorkers’ taxi service is that best in the world—that costs money” Woloz said.

He said a 19 percent increase to both fares and lease caps would be more equitable.

But, according to TLC figures, fleets can make about $48,650 per medallion, meaning a 200-cab fleet could make more than $9 million a year, which the TLC doesn’t consider a hardship.

The TLC is scheduled to vote on the plan this Thursday.

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NYC Taxi Commission To Vote on Fare Increase This Week

Monday, July 09, 2012

(photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) By the end of the summer, the cost of a taxi trip may be more expensive.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is poised to vote this week on the first taxi fare hike in six years. The proposed increase would boost fares by 17 percent.

Cab driver Badr Battaoui, 29, said the daily cost of leasing the taxi and medallion, rising gas prices and 5 percent drivers are charged per credit card transaction add up.

“The bills are expensive,” he said during a short break from his 10-hour shift at the corner of Second Avenue and 1st Street. “I'm not going to tell you that I'm poor, but I don't save up that much, you know? I have student loans. My wife has student loans. We have kids."

Cab drivers are also hoping that the TLC will end high credit card fees and institute a driver health fund, which the city is considering for the first time.

Veteran cabbie Brij Jihingen, who has chronic illnesses such as diabetes, said he has been waiting 25 years for a health fund that would set aside 6 cents per ride.

"I have sugar, blood cholesterol and blood pressure-- you name it I have it,” said Jihingen, who, like many of his fellow drivers, does not have health insurance.

A health fund, he said, would show the city values its taxi drivers.

"Because we are working for the city as well… you can see a normal person's health and a taxi driver’s health -- you can recognize a taxi driver from a distance...here's a cab driver coming.”

Taxi passengers have mixed feelings about the proposed increase.

John Salvo, who runs a Soho art gallery and lives in New Jersey, said comparatively taxis are cheaper in New York City than many other cities like San Francisco and Las Vegas.

"They actually do a pretty good job and it’s a pretty fair bargain so perhaps rates should go up a bit,” he said.

Gayle Brown, who lives in Manhattan, said she rides her bike most places and takes cabs only when she’s wearing heels or heading to or from the airport. But she feels for the drivers.

“Well, everybody is pinching and food is going up, everything is going up”, she said.  “I don't blame people for trying. Cab drivers aren't rich. You can see that.”

Of course, not all customers are on board.

Sherri Lynn Graham from the Bronx doesn’t think drivers don't deserve it.

“I think it’s crazy because they're not polite people sometimes, and they don't stop for black people sometimes,” she said. “You know, you want an increase then you should give us the service that we need.”

Also being considered is the elimination of the per-swipe fee of 5 percent cabbies must pay on credit cards, and instituting a flat $9-per-shift charge instead. Fleet owners vehemently oppose the proposal.

Michael Woloz, spokesman for the fleet organization the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade said “the $9-a-shift increase is not an increase at all—also, it’s far less than the 5 percent.”

Woloz said he thought the proposal was a punishment to medallion owners who are currently pursuing a lawsuit against the city to block a plan that would allow livery cars to accept street hails.

While drivers are hoping for a fare hike with no increase in the lease rates, many longtime passengers, like Gina Cecala, 80, of Manhattan are ambivalent about paying more for a ride.

"Dollar more, dollar less — don't bother me, beats walking,” said Cecala, who takes cabs several times a week. “They want it, they get it. That's it.”

The TLC is holding a public hearing on the fare proposal Monday and is expected to vote on the measure this Thursday.

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Proposal Would Put Smart Meters In D.C. Cabs By End Of Year

Thursday, July 05, 2012

(photo by Mylon Medley)

(Patrick Madden -- Washington, D.C. -- WAMU) D.C. says it hopes to have credit card machines in its taxicabs by the end of the year.

Mayor Vincent Gray says the city is preparing to ink a $35 million deal with Verifone Systems to install new smart meters in all licensed D.C. cabs. The devices will have credit card machines, panic buttons, GPS technology, and video screens that will play a short PSA and feature content for passengers from NBC.

It's part of a major overhaul to modernize the District's fleet of taxis. To pay for the deal, the city will add a 50-cent surcharge for all cab rides.

"We are going to move on it very quickly and we think this is going to a real, major difference for this city," says taxicab commissioner Ron Linton.

The announcement comes ahead of next week's second and final vote on legislation that promises to modernize the taxi cab industry. Council Member Mary Cheh crafted the proposal, which was approved by a wide margin during the first vote. It not only requires smart meters, but pledges to have more handicapped accessible cabs and a uniform color of all taxis in D.C.

"At the end of the day, we will be able to have something that lets us steer a course that modernize this industry, is fair to drivers, and have something that we can be proud of," says Cheh.

Some taxicab owners have protested the legislation, because of the costs associated with installing the new meters. Linton says the meters will cost each driver approximately $300.

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Court Rules NYC Taxis Need Not Be Wheelchair Accessible

Thursday, June 28, 2012

(New York, NY - WNYC) A federal appeals court has struck down a ruling that would have required New York City to give taxi licenses only to wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act doesn't require the city to demand that cabbies serve the disabled, only that the city not discriminate against disabled people seeking a license to drive a cab. That's despite the fact that only 2 percent of the city's yellow taxis are wheelchair-accessible.

See the court's decision here.

The city can keep moving toward a contract with Nissan to provide New York with a "Taxi of Tomorrow": a mini-van with transparent roofs, USB chargers and extra legroom--but no easy access to people in wheelchairs.

Mayor Bloomberg praised the decision to let the new cab project move forward. “This ruling is consistent with common sense and the practical needs of both the taxi industry and the disabled, and we will continue our efforts to assist disabled riders,” he said.

Assuming Nissan signs a contract with the city, it will become the sole provider of New York's yellow taxis. The new models would be rolled out beginning next year, as older cabs are retired.

But the Taxis for All Campaign decried the ruling in a statement: "New York City has more taxis than any city in America. Yet only 232 (1.8%) out of 13,237 taxis are accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Because subway stations are also inaccessible, the lack of accessible taxis has left wheelchair users with no viable way to travel in New York City."

The lower court ruling had called access to wheelchair-friendly cabs "a basic civil right." Disability Rights Advocates’ attorney Sid Wolinsky, who represented some plaintiffs in the case, blasted the city for not delivering on that right. “The Bloomberg administration has been astonishingly hostile to people with disabilities," he said. “The notion that New York City would now have a taxi fleet that is mostly not accessible when cities like London have had a 100 percent accessible fleet for over a decade is pretty shameful.”

Wolinsky believes his group could still win the case through other arguments that weren't addressed by the appeals court.

Edith Prentiss of the Taxis For All Campaign agreed. “This ruling will not stop us," she said. "We have been fighting for the rights of persons with disabilities to use this public transportation system for a decade, and the fight will continue."

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Companies Get in the Race for NYC Taxi App

Monday, June 11, 2012

NYC Taxi (photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) A taxi app competition sponsored by New York City is heating up. The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) is accepting proposals for an app that will help passengers pay for their taxi trips with their smartphones.

"You could pre-load your credit card and pre-set the tip amount that you use and that way when you get in a taxi you click that app and you don't have to worry about swiping that credit card at the end," said TLC Commissioner David Yassky.

In addition to the convenience of not having to dig for a credit card before getting out of a cab and having a record of the receipt, at least two of the companies in the running also promise their technology will assist customers in locating a taxi.

One of the competitors, Jay Bregman, who is CEO of the company Hailo, said, “We want to help solve the inefficiencies in the taxi market.” The company already offers a popular taxi app in London. “Why go into the street when you can hail the cab from inside the house or the bar?” he added.

Radios and dispatchers are barred from use in yellow cabs but companies like Hailo said that there isn’t any need for a dispatcher with their app — it’s more like putting your technology in the air, instead of waving your arm in the air to hail a cab.

But some in the industry are against using gadgets to find cabs.

The Livery Roundtable, a group that represents over 300 livery bases in the city, said in a statement: “Digital hailing is just another sleight of hand by the TLC to masquerade its desire to de-reregulate ground transportation … Besides forcing the driver to text and drive — prearranged service is legally the exclusive right of the for-hire service sector.”

But TLC Commissioner Yassky said digital hailing isn’t necessarily their goal — it’s only a function they’re considering.

"App developers are welcome to give us other functions on top of payment … we'll see what comes in," said Yassky.

Another company keen on getting into the city’s taxi market is GetTaxi.

The company’s CEO, Jing Wang Herman, said they’d like to provide drivers with a dashboard-mounted box that will help them connect with customers. In addition to other functions, their app will help disabled customers find a wheelchair-accessible taxi.

Yassky said the number of winners in the app contest depends on the quality of the submissions.

The last day to submit entries is Thursday. Winners are expected to be announced this fall.

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NYC's Livery Plan, And Billions in Budget Funding, Remain in Limbo

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Livery Cab (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York isn’t planning to appeal a temporary injunction against the city's five borough taxi plan — even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the decision “worrisome.”

Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engron’s ruling Friday against the plan has put the sale of 18,000 outer borough livery permits, as well as the auction of 2,000 yellow medallions on hold. That sale was estimated to bring in about a billion dollars to the city's cash strapped budget.

Bloomberg told reporters on Tuesday that money is key.

"If we were to not get it, it would be very serious,” he said. Bloomberg believes the city is on the “right side of the law” and the courts will eventually rule in their favor.

The court's ruling is in response to a lawsuit filed by yellow medallion owners and lenders. It alleges the city’s plan to allow livery taxi street hail service outside Manhattan violated the state's constitution because Bloomberg went to Albany for approval instead of the City Council.

Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (one of the plaintiffs in the case) said, “we hope the city realizes that the law is unconstitutional and unsalvageable – and that we can work on a clean slate so the city can get real revenue.”

While the city said last week that the court was “mistaken” in its analysis and was exploring its appellate options, Corporation Counsel’s Michael Cardozo said on Tuesday that the city isn’t appealing the ruling because the judge's decision is only an interim one, expected to be in place for only a few weeks. “We believe that immediate resolution rather than appealing one interim ruling is in everyone’s interests,” he said.

The court will be receiving submissions from all parties in the case on June 19 in connection with motions for summary judgment.

The livery permit sale was to begin this month; the medallion auction was set for July.

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BREAKING: Judge Halts Mayor Bloomberg's Taxi Plan

Friday, June 01, 2012

(photo by d-w via Flickr)

(New York, NY -- WNYC) A state supreme court judge has -- at least for now -- brought the city's 5-boro taxi plan to a screeching halt, based on the theory that allowing the state to approve the plan was "an unconstitutional power grab."  The judge acted on a law suit brought by the yellow cab industry.

The plan, set to get underway this month, would have brought street-hail taxi service to northern Manhattan and the outer boros.  The sale of the additional medallions -- essentially, licenses to operate street-hail vehicles -- was to bring over $1 billion to city coffers.  The city has been offering seminars for fleet owners on how to convert outer-boro livery cars to taxis, and even designated a color for the new street hails --"Apple Green."

Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engron, who was a cabbie himself while he was an undergrad at Columbia, wrote in his decision:  “The court has trouble seeing how the provision of taxi service is a matter that can be wrenched from the hands of city government where it has resided for some 75 years. And be handed over to the state.”  He added that the restraining order “seeks to preserve the status quo until a more complete examination of the plaintiffs claim can be made.”

But the city's reaction was swift and scathing.

Corporation Counsel Michael A. Cardozo, NYC's top lawyer, said, "We are deeply disappointed by today's decision.  We think the court was mistaken in its analysis and are exploring our appellate options.  We intend to so do expeditiously, so that we can proceed with this important new initiative.  The program is geared to providing improved transportation options to segments of the City which are now woefully underserved.  In addition, because we are enjoined from issuing additional medallions, we are prevented from proceeding with a program which will provide significant benefits to the disabled and garner the City approximately $1 billion in critically needed revenues."

The medallion industry has bitterly fought the Bloomberg plan, hiring consultants, organizing opposition rallies and threatening to litigate. The industry complained that allowing cars other than yellow taxis to pick up street hails would devalue the billion dollar medallion industry because for more than 80 years only they enjoyed that right.

One of the plaintiffs, the fleet group the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, is celebrating the Judge’s decision. Spokesman Michael Woloz said “By preventing the Taxi and Limousine Commission from issuing any outer borough street hail permits the court has prevented a trampling of the NY State constitution as well as an economic disaster from taxi owners and drivers who invested their life savings into what they regarded as the American dream—the taxi medallion. "

TLC Commissioner David Yassky called the last minute decision "unfortunate."

“We share the disappointment of the 80% of new Yorkers who live and work outside Manhattan and are waiting for safe, legal and reliable taxi service as well as the thousands of livery drivers who stand ready to provide that service," Yassky said.

The city was poised to start issuing the permits this month. The yellow medallion auction that’s scheduled for July and is estimated to bring in about 1 billion dollars to the city ‘s budget is now also on hold.

 

Here's the ruling:

SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK
COUNTY OF NEW YORK: PART 52
--------------------------------------------------------------------x
TAXICAB SERVICE ASSOCIATION, et al.,
Index Number: 102553/12
Plaintiffs,
Oral Argument Date: 5/31/12
- against -
Temporary Restraining Order
THE STATE OF NEW YORK, et al.,

Defendants.
----------------------------------------------------------------x
METROPOLITAN TAXICAB BOARD OF TRADE,
et al.,
Index Number 102472/12
Plaintiffs,
Oral Argument Date: 5/31/12
- against -
Temporary Restraining Order
MICHAEL R. BLOOMBERG, in his official capacity
as Mayor of the City of New York, et al.,

Defendants.
------------------------------------------------------------------x
GREATER NEW YORK TAXI ASSOCIATION
et. al.
Index Number 102783
Plaintiffs,
Oral Argument Date 5/31/12
- against -
Temporary Restraining Order
THE STATE OF NEW YORK, et al.,

Defendants.
------------------------------------------------------------------x

Arthur F. Engoron, Justice

Every New Yorker worth his or her salt knows the following basic facts about taxicabs: only “medallioned” cabs are allowed by law to pick up street hail passengers; the City limits the number of medallions (NYC Charter § 2303(b)(4)); and finding a medallioned cab outside of lower- and mid-Manhattan and the airports is usually quite difficult. Indeed, in the so-called “outer-boroughs” (which for the sake of this order includes Manhattan above East 96th Street and West 110th Street) persons needing taxi service must, practically speaking, either telephone a livery cab company, or hail a “gypsy” cab not authorized to make the pickup. For decades, the problem of the lack of legal, reliable taxi service in the outer boroughs has proven intractable.

Recently, the executive branch of defendant City of New York, i.e., the mayor’s office, asked the legislative branch, i.e., the City Council, to increase the number of medallions and to authorize licenses for outer-borough hails. When negotiations broke down, the executive branch asked the State Government for the same. The result is the legislation at issue in these three roughly parallel (and fascinating) cases: Chapter 602 of the Laws of 2011, and Chapter 9 of the Laws of 2012, collectively known as The Street Hail Livery Law. These enactments essentially, and greatly simplified, allow the mayor to issue 2,000 more medallions; allow the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a part of the executive branch, to issue 18,000 outer borough hail licenses, and mandates certain handicap accessibility quotas.

Plaintiffs in the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade case are medallion owners and New York City Council Member Lewis A. Fidler. Plaintiffs in the Taxicab Service Association (“TSA”) case are credit unions and the like that finance the purchase of medallions. Plaintiffs in the Greater New York Taxi Association case are medallion owners and one individual. Defendants in both cases are, simply put, the State of New York, the legislative and executive bodies thereof, the City of New York, the Mayor thereof, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the Commissioner thereof.

As plaintiffs would have it, the trek to Albany was an “end run” by the Mayor. Be that as it may, end runs are legal in football and in politics. The most basic question (among many others) presented here is whether the legislation violates the “Home Rule” provision of the State Constitution. See NY Const. Art. IX § 2(b)(2): the legislature . . . [s]hall have the power to act in relation to the property, affairs or government of any local government only by general law, or by special law [i.e., a law affecting only one locality] only . . . on request of two-thirds of the total membership of its legislative body or on request of its chief executive officer concurred in by a majority of such membership.” As this Court has determined, in the roughly 24 hours since oral argument ended yesterday, and on the business day just prior to the one on which significant aspects of the legislation are to go into effect, that plaintiffs are likely to succeed on their claim that the law does the State Constitution, and that plaintiffs have demonstrated “irreparable harm” and a “balancing of the equities” in their favor, this Court hereby issues this Temporary Restraining Order, enjoining defendants from implementing any aspect of the law (which contains a so-called “poison pill,” pursuant to which if any aspect of the law is held to be constitutionally infirm, the whole law falls).

Since The Great Depression the legislative branch of New York City has governed, and limited, the issuance of taxi medallions. Even when, twice in the last two decades, the City Council modestly increased the number of medallions, the Council issued a home rule message to this effect. Under the Home Rule provision of the State Constitution, the State Legislature may override the laws of a local municipality only in “matters other than the property, affairs or government of a local government.” The question here is basically whether the number of taxi medallions and the rules of outer-borough hails is primarily a matter of local or state concern. Obviously, anything that affects New York City affects the state in which it is situated, and just as obviously non-New York City residents can (and do, in droves) spend time in New York City. But, generally speaking, these facts cannot satisfy the Home Rule requirements or nothing would be left of the rule but the exceptions. The argument that the City is in the State, and so is a State concern, simply proves too much. This Court has trouble seeing how the provision of taxi service in New York City is a matter that can be wrenched from the hands of City government, where it has resided for some 75 years, and handed over to the State. Both governments are democracies, but only one is solely answerable on election day to the constituents of the five boroughs, those directly affected by the taxi service at issue here.

In a memorandum in opposition to plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief, defendant City quotes the New York State Senate Introducer’s Memorandum in Support of the legislation, in part, as follows:

The bill would allow the City to implement a taxi plan that will more effectively service all five boroughs of New York City and greatly increase the availability of accessible taxicabs and for-hire vehicles. The creation of this plan was prompted by three persistent mobility problems: the lack of accessible vehicles for people with disabilities; nearly non-existent taxi availability in underserved areas of the City (e.g., boroughs outside Manhattan); and insufficient taxi supply in Manhattan’s central business district.

There is nothing in here about Nassau or Westchester Counties, much less Buffalo or Rochester.

As the TSA plaintiffs put it (Memorandum of Law dated 5/17/12, at 7), “the Street Hail Livery Law infringes on Plaintiffs’ constitutionally guaranteed right to have their local government representatives decide issues relating to the local taxi industry, in which they are longtime and central participants.”

In addition to showing a likelihood of success on the merits, this Court finds that plaintiffs have demonstrated irreparable injury (see generally Ambrose v. Malcolm, 414 F Supp 485, 493 (S.D.N.Y.1976) (suggesting that deprivations of constitutional rights ipso facto demonstrate irreparable injury, or substitute therefor)), and a balancing of the equities in their favor (briefly keeping the status quo will not harm defendants).

Because of the afore-referenced severe time restrictions, today’s order does not address the numerous other complex objections (alleged unconstitutional takings and inadequate environmental review to name just two of many) plaintiffs have raised to the subject legislation. Today’s order also does not address the wisdom, or lack thereof, of defendants’ good-faith efforts to address age-old problems. Today’s order only seeks to preserve the status quo until a more complete examination can be made of plaintiffs’ claim (among others) that the legislation at issue represents an unconstitutional power grab, and of defendants’ response that the State government has properly regulated an area of state-wide concern.

Thus defendants are hereby temporarily restrained, pending further order of this Court, from implementing any aspect of the subject legislation, conditional on plaintiffs collectively posting a bond of $600,000 (the TSA plaintiffs claim to be a multi-billion dollar business) by Thursday, June 7, 2012. The Court will attempt to resolve with all deliberate speed plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, defendants’ request for summary judgment, and the ultimate merits of this litigation.

Dated: 6/1/12
Arthur F. Engoron, J.C.C.

Sincerely,

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NY Taxi Rates Expected To Rise by Summer's End

Monday, May 21, 2012

(New York, NY -- WNYC) By the end of the summer, it may cost more to take a taxi in New York.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission says it’s considering a fare hike on cabs later this month.  Its been 8 years since the last overall fare hike. The TLC will hold a public hearing on the rate hikes on May 31.

The Taxi Workers Alliance submitted a proposal for a hike a year ago. The group is asking for an increase between 20-25 percent.

Official sources say that number would likely be closer to 16-20 percent but that drivers have made a good case for an increase.

That would raise the average fare to $14 from about $12.

Taxi Workers Alliance’s Bhairavi Desai says  “Its about time, the last overall raise was in 2004—and we’ve seen drivers really struggling out there to make ends meet."

TLC Commissioner David Yassky says “it’s reasonable for taxi drivers and fleet owners to put this one the table. We will consider their petitions over the next couple of months.”

The TLC will also look at maximum lease rates, know as "lease caps," which have been requested by fleet owners.

If a fare increase is approved by the summer-- it will coincide with the sale of the new outer borough livery permits and 2000 yellow medallions.

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New York City Settles Stop and Frisk Lawsuit by Livery Cab Passengers

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

a livery cab (photo by Kate Hinds)

(Ailsa Chang -- New York, WNYC) The city has settled a federal lawsuit charging that the New York City police department has been unlawfully detaining, questioning and searching passengers for weapons in livery cabs as part of a city livery cab inspection program.

The two passengers who filed the lawsuit last May, Terrence Battle and Munir Pujara, are both men of color. They alleged they were pulled out of their cabs and searched for weapons even though the officers did not suspect either them of criminal activity.

Neither of them was charged with any offense after their encounters.

As part of the settlement, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has committed to retraining officers and instructing them that passengers riding in livery cars participating in the Taxi/Livery Robbery Inspection Program, or TRIP, can only be removed on certain conditions: if the officer fears for his safety, or if he suspects the passenger is armed or has committed a violent crime.

Kelly issued a new operations order commanding all officers to follow these rules. Although the department issued a similar operations order detailing this policy about a decade ago, criminal justice advocates said too few officers heeded the rules.

"The problem was no one knew about that operations order and there had never been any training on it, so police officers around the city mistakenly believed that they could frisk and search passengers without suspicion," said Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented both plaintiffs.

Dunn said they interviewed more than a dozen livery car drivers who claimed they were getting stopped routinely and their passengers were getting pulled out without any reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

TRIP is meant to protect livery drivers from crimes perpetrated by passengers, especially robberies. Drivers who voluntarily participate in the program consent to being pulled over by a police officer at any point to check on their safety. Participants display a decal in their windows stating, "This vehicle may be stopped and visually inspected by the police at any time to ensure driver’s safety."

The plaintiffs didn't challenge the actual vehicle stops in their lawsuit -- only the manner in which they were treated after the officers pulled the livery cabs over.

In addition to promising the retraining of officers, the city paid Battle and Pujara $10,000 each.

City lawyers called the TRIP program "entirely constitutional" and noted that the program itself was not challenged in the lawsuit.

“The police department remains committed to ensuring that the program is run correctly and to ensure the continued safety of livery cab drivers and their passengers,” said Mark Zuckerman of the city's Law Department.

Dunn said, as with the the stopping and frisking of pedestrians, TRIP resulted in unwarranted frisks and searches that disproportionate impacted minorities.

"Yellow cabs just aren't available in the outer boroughs, the communities where blacks and Latinos primarily live," said Dunn. "Really the targets -- and the victims -- of this practice wer blacks and Latinos."

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New York City Comptroller Says He's Blocking Taxi of Tomorrow

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Nissan NV200 -- New York's "Taxi of Tomorrow" - on display at the 2012 New York Auto Show (photo by Kate Hinds

Comptroller John Liu further complicated the New York City’s "Taxi of Tomorrow" project  Wednesday by saying he wouldn’t approve the city’s contract with Nissan because the vehicle selected isn’t wheelchair accessible.

Surrounded by other elected officals and advocates for the disabled, Liu said he believed the contract ‘as is’ violates the Americans With Disabilities Act.

But Liu, who is under an ethical cloud for campaign finance violations,  may not be able to reject the contract outright.  Liu's campaign treasurer and a fundraiser have been indicted for using "straw donors" to circumvent city camapaign finance rules.

Kate O’Brien, spokeswoman with the City Law Department, said, “the law limits the issues upon which the Comptroller may refuse to register a contract. None of the matters raised, including ADA compliance, would constitute lawful grounds for refusing to do so.”

The city chose Nissan to be the single provider of yellow taxis for the next decade beginning in 2013. The new cabs will be rolled out as older cabs are retired.

The Nissan NV 200 has transparent roofs, USB chargers and extra legroom.  However, even though it’s a mini-van, it isn't accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Liu said “requiring cabs to have independent climate controls is nice but when you fail to make them accessible to a growing number of New Yorkers, it’s not just a slap in the face, its illegal.”

Taxi and Limousine Commssion spokesperson Allan Fromberg called Liu’s objection to the contact “mysterious and ill-informed.” He said, “Nissan is providing a wheelchair accessible version of the Taxi of Tomorrow, the city will create an additional 2,000 wheelchair accessible medallion licenses and they’re on the cusp of launching a demand responsive wheelchair accessible taxi dispatch system.”

Disabled groups sued the city over the Taxi of Tomorrow, and in 2011, a federal court ruled that the city, through the Taxi and Limousine Commission, violated ADA because it failed to provide passengers in wheelchairs meaningful access to taxis.  But an appeals court has allowed the city to put new taxis on the street without complying with the lower’s court’s order.

Currently, only 2 percent of the city’s taxi fleet is wheelchair accessible.

Attorney James Weissman with United Spinal Association, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit against the Taxi of Tomorrow, rejected the notion that a dispatch system will provide “meaningful access” to cabs for the estimated 60,000 New Yorkers in wheelchairs.  He noted that a separate system just for people with disabilities is a classic violation of civil rights.

“If it was any other protected class would we even question whether or not this was a shameful practice?” he asked. “What if we were running a separate system –substitute any other protected class…women have to take a separate system, blacks have to take a separate system – they can’t get in the same cabs…it doesn’t pass the smell test.”

By taking on the taxi issue, the embattled comptroller isn’t only taking on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg  He’s going head-to-head with TLC Commissioner David Yassky—his rival in the 2009 runoff for the office of Comptroller—an office many political insiders believe Yassky would make a run for again.

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OMG! It's Green! New Yorkers React to New Cab Color

Monday, April 30, 2012

The city's new outer-boro street hails, inspired by the color of Granny Smith apples (photo: Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Brigid Bergin, WNYC) Move over, Granny Smith. Apple green taxis are coming to an outer borough near you.

That's the official color the city selected for the new boro Taxis. Cars this shade of green, a color WNYC reported was on the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s short list, are scheduled to bring taxi service to Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, the Bronx and northern Manhattan starting this summer.

Taiwo Whetstone, 30, gasped at the green hue. “Oh, my! That's really bright. Bright green. I mean it seems like the Brooklyn version of a taxi cab,” suggested Whetstone who lives in Clinton Hill.

But she liked the idea of it and said it would make her feel better about hailing a cab, “Coming from Brooklyn, you know, that’s kind of nice to have taxi cabs that are that obvious.”

Looking at a picture of the new cab color, Andrew Lis, 38, and his 7-year-old daughter Josie gave it a luke-warm reception.

“It's ok. It doesn't look like a cab,” said Lis as his daughter Josie chimed in, “It looks booger-colored.”

 

Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined TLC Commissioner David Yassky and other elected officials for the big reveal on Sunday in City Hall Plaza. The mayor called the vibrant shade “attractive” and “distinctive” adding, “It’s easy on the eyes and easy to pick out from a distance in traffic and that's going to help customers.”

“I think that green matches the leafier nature of the boroughs, as opposed the office towers of midtown,” said Yassky.

The TLC plans to issue 18,000 permits that will allow livery vehicles to legally pick up street hails, a practice that is currently illegal and subject to tickets and fines through TLC enforcement agents.

Yassky said the city has a “zero tolerance policy” on illegal street hails with 36,000 tickets issued in fiscal year 2012.

Under the new plan, current livery drivers will be eligible to apply for the $1,500 boro taxi permit on a first-come, first-serve basis starting Tuesday May 29. In June, the city will issue the first 6,000 permits, with two subsequent waves to follow.

A group of yellow cab owners have filed a suit to block the plan. That lawsuit is still pending.

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