Transportation Nation

Deal Reached on Controversial NYC Taxi Plan

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

(photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

(New York, NY - WNYC) New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday a deal that would expand taxi service in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, by allowing livery cabs to pick up street hails, and meet concerns about ensuring wheelchair accessibility.

Under the deal, 2,000 medallions will be available, and all of them will be accessible. The bill that passed earlier this year would have made available 1,500 medallions with only 500 as accessible-taxi medallions.

Cuomo said the deal means the city gets "more than a good bill." The sale of the medallions will generate revenue for the city, the outer boroughs will get better service and there will be accessible cabs that will help the disabled, in particular those in wheelchairs.

"No one thought we'd get this home," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at the press conference via phone. "We never gave up and we never stopped making the case."

The legislation authorizing the new cab service, and the sale by the city of $1 billion worth of medallions, has been held up for weeks by Cuomo, who said the bill did not provide enough handicap-accessible cabs, and would be shot down in court.

TLC Commissioner David Yassky said the agreement "will bring first rate, legal taxi service to all five boroughs."

As for permits for outerborough livery cabs, 18,000 permits will be made available over the next three years, and 20 percent of those cabs will have to be accessible. The city's original plan had called for 30,000 permits.

The governor hosted the press conference in the Red Room of the State Capital.

With reporting by Kathleen Horan

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Transportation Nation

Your TN Transportation and Infrastructure Holiday Gift Guide: New York Edition

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Last year it looked like bikes had replaced owls as the go-to item at New York's craft fairs. But this year transportation is coming into its own. And the last-minute holiday shopper looking for gifts with an infrastructure bent will be amply rewarded.

The last New York City subway token was sold in 2003. But they live on at the Brooklyn Flea, where they've been re-engineered to serve as pendants.

NYC subway token necklaces by City Owl, Inc. (photo by Kate Hinds)

Seen at the Columbus Avenue GreenFlea, on Manhattan's Upper West Side: jewelry made from traffic lights.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

And then downtown at the Bust Craftacular, someone was selling jewelry and key chains made out of repurposed license plates:

(photo by Kate Hinds)

But the Craftacular also had its highbrow offerings, like sterling silver bike tie tacks.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

Thirsty? The newly opened REI in SoHo is catering to the locals with a subway water bottle.

(photo by Kate Hinds)

But the Infrastructure Gift Purveyor of the Year Award goes to dishware vendor Fishs Eddy (admittedly not a craft fair) where one can purchase a ceramic parking ticket tray:

(photo by Kate Hinds)

And you can toast 2012 with glassware emblazoned with the Lincoln Tunnel mosaic that marks the New York/New Jersey state line:

(photo by Kate Hinds)

And, of course, eat your cereal out of bowls with iconic city bridges:

A bowl from the Bridge & Tunnel collection (photo by Kate Hinds)

But you might still want to get back to basics and drink your morning caffeine out of a bike mug.

Taliah Lempert-designed bicycle mug (photo by Kate Hinds)

But don't hoist the mug while wearing your Kate Spade taxi mittens (spotted at the Flatiron District Kate Spade store.)

Kate Spade window display (photo by Kate Hinds)

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Transportation Nation

Taxi Advocates Plead Their Case To New York's Governor

Thursday, December 15, 2011

(photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

(Kathleen Horan -- New York, WNYC) Taxi industry insiders attended a meeting in Albany on Wednesday in a last bid attempt to resolve issues surrounding the Bloomberg administration’s outer borough taxi bill. The two-hour discussion was convened and chaired by Governor Andrew Cuomo himself -- who will spend still more time on the issue on Thursday.

Following Wednesday's summit, Cuomo said “even though government comes with the best of intentions, to redesign a system, there can be unanticipated consequences.” He said one of the main sticking points in the plan to allow livery cars to accept street hails is wheelchair accessibility — and if anyone would purchase accessible permits since the vehicles are more expensive.

"The industry says that nobody is going to buy those permits because it’s not economically feasible. They can’t afford to buy the cars given the revenue. That's a big hole in the current plan," Cuomo explained.

He added another key issue to be worked out is how the plan would be enforced.

The governor has until next week to veto or sign before the bill before it expires. If he does sign, it’ll likely to be contingent on significant changes to the bill happening through a chapter amendment.

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky called the meeting a "very productive discussion." Yassky said the city will keep working to try and hash out an agreement.

If it becomes law, the plan would green-light the sale of about 2000 yellow medallions, adding about $1 billion dollars in revenue to the city's budget.

Speaking Thursday on an Albany radio station, Cuomo said that he's spending time more time on the issue this week. "There's no 'quick' on the taxi bill. It's a very complicated matter." He added that "the devil is in the details, and this is designing a new taxi and livery system for the city of New York."

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Transportation Nation

D.C. Pedicabbers Say Park Police Still Targeting Them

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

(Courtesy John Jacks)

(Washington, D.C. - Jonathan Wilson, WAMU) D.C. pedicab operators have been complaining of hostile treatment from police around the National Mall for much of the year. Although business slows down as the weather gets colder, some pedicab drivers say unpleasant interactions with police are again heating up.

Pedicab operators in the District started complaining of a police crackdown on their industry in the spring. Brian Graber, who's been operating a pedicab for three years now, says the U.S. Park Police force-- which has jurisdiction over the National Mall -- was enforcing rules before, but something has changed.

"This year, it started getting ferocious, if you will," Graber says. "I don't know what happened."

Oskar Mosco says he thought things would calm down once the National Park Service contract with Tourmobile ended in October, since many confrontations with police have centered on pedicabs picking up customers in designated Tourmobile pickup locations. But in the past couple of weeks, he says he's seen an increase in hostile attitudes from some officers.

"The same officers are coming up," he says. "We talk about getting badge numbers, to have some accountability."

The Park Police did not respond to requests for comment. The National Park Service has said it is drafting revised regulations for pedicab operation around the mall.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) is drafting a letter to the National Park Service this week, urging Park Service officials to involve pedicab operators as they formulate the plan.

Norton says tension between police and pedicab operators should be resolved with a simple sit-down meeting, but she also says revamping the transportation plan for the National Mall goes beyond resolving conflicts between pedicab operators, the Park Police and the Park Service.

"Are we going to have multi-modal, green transportation on the mall?" asks Norton. "Or are we going to have monopoly transportation? That's the kind of issue the public needs to weigh in on. I'm hoping the Park Service understands that."

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Transportation Nation

Despite Cuomo's Suggestion That Taxi Talks Failed, Bloomberg Still Optimistic

Friday, December 09, 2011

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo NYC Mayor's Office)

(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday he remains optimistic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will sign a bill that would put $1 billion in the city's coffers and allow street hails of some livery cabs in residential areas.

Bloomberg said on his weekly WOR Radio appearance Friday that he'd spoken to Cuomo the day before. He didn't disclose the details.

Cuomo said Wednesday that talks had failed to resolve significant issues with the bill. He said that without agreement, he'd veto it and wait for it to be brought up again next year.

The plan to allow a new class of livery car to accept street hails in upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs was at the center of Bloomberg's legislative agenda this year.

The bill passed the state legislature last summer and is finally expected to be sent to Cuomo on Friday to sign. He said Wednesday he will veto it because a myriad of issues  remained unresolved, including ensuring more wheelchair accessibility into the plan.

"I’ve said from day one, if we don't have a resolution of these issues I'm going to veto the bill because you don't have an agreement. We have been trying we've had numerous meeting over the past few weeks but we failed to reach resolution.”

The bill has faced passionate opposition from yellow taxi fleet owners, some in the livery industry and advocates for the disabled.

When Bloomberg was asked by reporters on Thursday if the bill was going to die, he appeared to be holding out hope for his plan, which he has said will increase taxi options beyond Manhattan.

“Many times the governor has assured me this would pass with some minor changes," he said. "We’ve worked on it with the governor’s staff, the state senate staff, the state assembly staff for months now.”

Cuomo has 10 days to decide whether to sign the bill or veto.

He has said that if he vetos the legislation it could be reintroduced early next year.


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Attempt to Revise Bloomberg's Taxi Plan May Have Stalled

Wednesday, December 07, 2011


Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to overhaul the way taxis are hailed could be headed for defeat. The city’s top lobbyist said the bill will be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo without any changes and the governor has already signaled he’s unhappy with the bill as is.


Transportation Nation

Controversial Plan To Expand Street-Hail Cab Pickup Faces Deadline

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Livery Cab (photo by Kate Hinds)

(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) Flagging a cab isn't quite a unique New York experience -- but its a quintessential one.  Pretty much forever, that experience has been limited to riders hailing yellow cabs in Manhattan.  Those living in the outer boroughs, or in Upper Manhattan, have to either call a car -- a livery cab -- or informally "hail" a livery cab, since it's actually illegal for such drivers to accept street hails.

Since January, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been trying to change that.   And the state legislature passed the bill he promoted last summer. But the plan to allow up to 30,000 specially marked livery cars to accept street hails in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs kicked up more than a little controversy.

Yellow medallion fleet owners argued a new class of taxi would threaten the value of their pricey medallions. Some livery bases that rely on pre-arranged calls worried that allowing livery drivers to legally accept street hails would undermine their business model. And disabled groups said the bill didn't include enough accessibility.

After the legislation's initial approval, State Senator Martin Golden, who was the bill’s original sponsor, said he signed onto the bill too fast, without understanding the repercussions. Golden said one of the issues is the number of proposed livery permits that could be available is too high.

Last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo's office convened a summit with key players to try to hash out a revised plan, but the Governor hasn't said what he'll do about the bill, which will die if he doesn't sign it by December 31.

As the deadline nears, stakeholders are either attempting to broker a deal—or hoping that the plan simply dies on the vine.

Changes in the bill could come during a special session of the legislature as early as this week.

If it becomes law, at least one opponent has promised to file a lawsuit to block any changes in court.

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Transportation Nation

Wheelchair Accessible Taxis Go Before NY Judge

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

One of the approximately 200 wheelchair accessible cabs in the city. (photo by Kate Hinds/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Kathleen Horan, WNYC) Attorneys for the disabled faced off against attorneys for the city in a court hearing on Tuesday over the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, as well as the Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District, argued that New York City is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying it runs a public transportation system -- yet only two percent of cabs in the city can accommodate people in wheelchairs.

Simi Linton of Manhattan was one of a dozen disabled New Yorkers attending the hearing. "I feel optimistic that the judge understood the depth and the reach of the kind of discrimination that disabled people face daily," she said.

The city contends it's not violating the law because it doesn't operate the cabs themselves, drivers do.

But Federal Judge George Daniels repeatedly challenged the city’s attorney, Robin Binder, about whether New York City is responsible to do more, and what it plans to do to provide “meaningful access” to disabled passengers. Daniels said: “If it is your legal obligation, there is no dispute you’re not meeting that obligation.”

The Taxi and Limousine Commission has said it’s currently developing a system where disabled riders can order a wheelchair- accessible cab from a dispatcher. It should be operational by next spring.

One of the plaintiffs, Christopher Noel, said that plan doesn't cut it. "The TLC is basically saying that we'll come up with a system eventually, and then we'll get to you, but for now we'll just pick up everyone else and then we'll get to everyone else," he said. "It hurt me when I heard their argument," he said.

Judge Daniels said he’ll rule on the case by Christmas.

Before he concluded the hearing, Daniels warned the city that if he determines the city has an obligation to do more for accessible passengers, then it will have to be armed with remedies immediately, not in the future

Plaintiffs in the case are asking that as taxis are retired over the next few years, all new cabs be accessible models. The Nissan NV 200, the model chosen by the city to be the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” has to be retrofitted to fit wheelchairs.

Industry opponents argue requiring 100 percent accessibility isn't feasible and is too expensive.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: LA Residents Want Transit Prioritized; Shorter Station Names Coming to DC Metro; NYC "Taxi Summit" Happening Today

Friday, November 04, 2011

Top stories on TN:

The Senate blocked a politically-charged $60 billion infrastructure bill Thursday; the GOP countered. (Link)

Broken escalators haunt DC's Metro. (Link)

Republicans are divided over the end of the Mexican trucking ban. (Link)

DC is debating whether to make it easier for cyclists to sue drivers. (Link)

Metro entrance in LA (photo by JoeInSouthernCA via Flickr)

A new poll says most L.A. residents want the state to prioritize transit, not roads. (Los Angeles Times)

The TSA will conduct a new study on the safety of X-ray body scanners. (Pro Publica)

Disabled New Yorkers want more accessible taxis. (WNYC)

And: the city's "Taxi Summit" -- an attempt to reach a deal on outer-borough street hail legislation -- is happening today. (Wall Street Journal)

The New York City Council voted in favor of residential parking permits, but Albany will have the final say. (WNYC)

Four years into its 10-year bicycle master plan, Seattle wants to update it. (Seattle Times)

Maryland's commuter rail is getting new multi-level cars. (Washington Post)

A bus drivers' protest has crippled bus service in Detroit this morning. (Detroit Free Press)

DC unveiled its list of shorter names for Metro stations. (Greater Greater Washington)

Is there a class divide in how pets travel on planes? (Good)

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Transportation Nation

Why Taxi Medallions Are Worth More than Ever

Monday, October 31, 2011

NYC Taxi (photo: Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

(New York, NY -- Ilya Marritz, WNYC) The past few years have been a bumpy ride for the assets one believed to safe but have recently had wild swings in value: bonds, gold and real estate, among them. But through it all, one asset has performed consistently: New York City taxi medallions just keep getting more expensive.

Sushil Maggoo drives a yellow Lexus. And he’s proud of the vehicle. But the most valuable part of this cab is not the vehicle itself, but the little piece of molded tin affixed to the hood. Even if you’ve ridden in a lot of cabs, you may never have taken a good look.

Maggoo’s medallion is blue and white, about six inches across, with a motif inspired by the Statue of Liberty’s crown. And it entitles him to pick up rides for hire, anywhere in the five boroughs of New York.

When he bought the medallion in 2003, he paid around $215,000. Today, the asking price for an individual driver medallion has more than tripled, to nearly $700,000. Last month, fleet medallions (which are valid for a single driver working within a fleet) cracked $1 million.

“It’s unbelievable, kind of,” said Maggoo, who adds that he would not be able to afford a medallion today.

An analysis by Bloomberg News, repeated by WNYC, shows individual and fleet medallions have seen a 10-fold increase in price. In the same period, gold prices tripled.

Seeking Rewards

Taking advantage of the rising cost of medallions is not so simple. To purchase a medallion, you need to become a driver or run a taxi fleet as a business.

There is one indirect way to invest, however: Medallion Financial, the only publicly traded company that makes medallion loans.
“Our company’s motto has been, ’In niches there are riches,’” said Andrew Murstein, company’s CEO.

The loans he makes are mainly to immigrants with no little or credit record, and no collateral. Though the business model could call to mind the recent boom in subprime home lending, which ended with nationwide economic meltdown, Murstein insists his business is different.

(Photo: Medallion Financial CEO Andrew Murstein. Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

“We have lent over $5 billion dollars to the taxi industry with zero losses,” he said. “I am not aware of a single bank in the United States that can make a claim like that.”

It’s not that drivers never default on their loans. But medallions are so valuable, it’s easy to repossess and re-sell a medallion from a delinquent borrower.

Explaining A Dizzying Rise

Similar to home lenders in the boom years, Medallion Financial’s business is based on the assumption that medallion values will never significantly decline in price. It’s a view supported by most drivers, and by Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky.

“I think people are buying these medallions because they know the city’s economy over the long run is a successful one,” he said.

Yassky added that the recent introduction of credit card readers may have contributed. With the option to pay using plastic, more people are likely to take a taxi, and they tend to tip more generously as well, he said.

But Ed Rogoff, a professor of management at Baruch College, said one factor alone really drives medallion prices: the fact that there are only 13,237 of them. Since the 1930s, the number has increased only slightly.

(Photo: Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky. Ilya Marritz/WNYC)

“There’s nothing like having a monopoly to keep you profitable,” Rogoff said. “When you limit competition, you get strong profits, and those profits get reflected in the value of the enterprise. And the value of the enterprise in the taxicab industry is the medallion price.”

Yet most drivers still make a modest wage. A typical driver may brings home about $50,000 a year, with no benefits.

Sushil Maggoo said he struggled to save enough to buy the medallion eight years ago. Now it’s his nest egg.

“I just want to keep up for my retirement to help me to pay my bill when I cannot work,” Maggoo said.

Until then, you’ll find him driving the streets of New York. Look for the yellow Lexus.


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In Good Times And Bad, Taxi Medallions Far Outpace Other Assets

Monday, October 31, 2011

The past few years have been a bumpy ride for the assets one believed to safe but have recently had wild swings in value: bonds, gold and real estate, among them. But through it all, one asset has performed consistently: New York City taxi medallions just keep getting more expensive.

Comments [1]

Transportation Nation

NYC Okays Wheelchair Accessible Cab

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An MV-1, parked outside NYC TLC headquarters (photo by Kate Hinds)

New York just approved a new vehicle for use in the city's taxi fleet -- a wheelchair-accessible, Indiana-made MV-1.  But riders will only have a few years to hail them before the city's non-accessible "Taxi of Tomorrow" becomes the only sanctioned model.

The vote, which happened at Thursday's Taxi and Limousine Commission meeting, came less than a week after the US Attorney's office weighed in on a lawsuit against the city and said that the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Disabled activists were on hand at the TLC meeting to testify in support of a rules change necessary to authorize the MV-1 -- and to talk about how difficult it is to hail a cab in the city. Jean Ryan with Disabled in Action said the lack of wheelchair-accessible cabs was frustrating.

Advocates for the disabled at the TLC hearing (photo by Kate Hinds)

"We can never see them, and the stickers are in the back," she said. "So they’ve passed us by the time we see that they’re accessible – if we ever see one. It’s like an Elvis sighting.”

City Council member Oliver Koppel was also there to support the rules change -- and to criticize New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said yesterday that it was too difficult for people in wheelchairs to hail taxis on the street in the first place, and that able-bodied people would feel uncomfortable in a wheelchair-accessible cab because "their suspension is much worse."

“I think the mayor’s concerns are totally off the wall,” Koppell said. He added that “37 members of City Council believe we should have an all-accessible fleet. The US Justice Department believes it. The governor apparently believes it, and it’s long past time for this commission to move in that direction.”

Currently, 231 of New York City's 13,237 taxi cabs are wheelchair accessible.

The MV-1 will retail for about $40,000. It weighs about 5,000 pounds and gets between 13 and 15 miles per gallon, depending on whether the engine uses compressed natural gas or regular fuel. No word yet on how many NYC medallion owners might be tempted to purchase one. But even if drivers take the plunge, they'll only be able to pilot it for a few more years. In May, the city awarded Nissan the contract for the Taxi of Tomorrow. The NV200 will begin to hit the streets by late 2013 and the Nissan will be the only cab in town by 2018. But the NV200 is not wheelchair accessible.

Assembly Member Micah Kellner, wearing a yellow and black button that said "Separate Is Not Equal," said at the TLC meeting: “I don’t care what the Taxi of Tomorrow is, because I think at the end of the day the Justice Department is going to decide that for us.”

Another view of the MV-1 (photo by Kate Hinds)

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Bloomberg Defends Outer-Borough Taxi Plan

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mayor Michael Bloomberg continued to defend his proposal to allow taxi street hails in outer-boroughs and the sale of additional medallions — even as the legislation remains unsigned by Governor Andrew Cuomo.


Transportation Nation

NYC's Taxi TV Gets A New Channel

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Taxi TV (photo by Kathleen Horan/WNYC)

(Kathleen Horan -- New York, WNYC) Since it debuted two years ago, Taxi TV hasn’t gotten great reviews. But the city is promising more choices that it hopes will boost its popularity this fall.

The city’s municipal television station, NYC Media, will create a second channel with programming that includes segments on the arts, food, animals and ways to enjoy NY "on the cheap." It is scheduled to debut in October.

"I picture myself as the template for going into that cab and saying, 'Oh, this is fun, this is cool … I want to go to this Bangladeshi restaurant. I want to see this free concert in Bryant Park,'" said Diane Petzke, general manager at NYC Media.

She said the new channel will offer more hyper-local content that real New Yorkers will enjoy. Currently the single channel shows news briefs and weather updates, as well as lifestyle programming that’s provided by WABC-TV and NBC TV — in between the commercials.

The advertisements pay for the programming, but neither of the two vendors who operate the screens, Creative Mobile Technologies or Verifone Technology Systems, would say how much revenue they make selling ad time in the back of cabs.

Regardless, most passengers say, it’s not the amount of the commercials or the current content that is at the heart of the matter — they’d rather do without the TVs altogether.

In a survey conducted by the city this year, more than 31 percent of customers said they found the TVs the second most annoying thing about riding in a taxi, after the price.

"I just don’t think I have to be that connected all the time," taxi passenger Harry Shroder said. He turns off Taxi TV as quickly as he can. "I rather enjoy a moment of relaxation, even if it's in a cab which is not that relaxing. I would prefer to have it off."

Frank Trolly, who has been driving a cab in the city for the last five decades, agrees. He doesn’t think the second channel will be much of a hit because most people are more interested in their own gadgets. "Either they’re on a cell phone, and that’s interrupting them, and they’re saying 'can you shut that off.'"

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said that according to their data, people switch off the screens about 22 percent of the time.

TLC Commissioner David Yassky said he understands. "I've seen some emails along the lines of the, 'TV is annoying and intrusive and I think you should get rid of it.'" But he added this is the first step towards improving the service. He said the two vendors who operate the TVs have agreed to pay for focus groups in their new contract with the city to see what passengers like and don’t like in future versions of Taxi TV.

Alan Stern, who takes cabs frequently for his job in real estate, welcomed another Taxi TV channel. "I think it’s good to have another choice because right now you just have the same news like every 10 minutes, so it would be good to have an added feature for yourself for sure. Some of those cab rides can be long and costly — at least you’re getting something for your money."

And, if you still don't like it, Yassky said you’ll soon be able to mute the introduction on TV screens as well.

You can listen to the story below.


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Transportation Nation

Trouble Finding A Parking Space In San Francisco? There's An App For That -- And It's Changing Parking Meter Prices

Thursday, September 01, 2011

SFpark manager Jay Primus. (Photo by Casey Miner/KALW)

(San Francisco – KALW) The city of San Francisco is making its first round of changes to parking meter costs based on data gathered from its street sensors around town. The idea is for meter and garage rates to be based on demand – so popular blocks will cost more, less crowded ones will be cheaper, and everyone will spend a little less time circling the block. How's it working?

According to Jay Primus, the manager of the program, "it’s a little bit like the Goldilocks principle. We don’t want it too hot, we don’t want it too cold – we want it just right. In this case, prices not too high or too low, but just right for the demand we see."

You can hear the whole story over at KALW.


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Transportation Nation

Poll: Drivers Are Ruder than Cyclists, but Taxi Drivers are Rudest of All

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

(photo by d-w via Flickr)

A little tidbit from yesterday's Marist poll on biking in New York City that I neglected to pull out.  The poll asked whether group X is "mostly respectful or not respectful when sharing the roads?"

Not surprisingly, the most "not respectful" are taxi drivers, at 78 percent.  Then, really motorists, cyclists and pedestrians are kind of clustered: Motorists are the next, at 53 percent.  Then come cyclists, with a 46 percent not respectful, and pedestrians, at 44 percent.

The most respectful?  Bus drivers.  Only 28 percent are seen as "not respectful," compared to 67 percent "respectful."

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Transportation Nation

A Tense 40th Anniversary for NY's Taxi Commission

Friday, July 29, 2011

(Kathleen Horan, WNYC -- New York) The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s recent monthly meeting was well attended at their new offices on Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan.Yellow cab drivers and others affiliated with the drivers’ group, the Taxi Worker’s Alliance, stood along the back wall of the hearing room closely monitoring the Commission’s discussion about possible rule changes regarding rooftop ads that can be seen affixed to the top of more than 8,000 yellow cabs.

Others in the industry were also accounted for: fleet owners, taxi leasing agents, livery base owners and others whose livelihoods are affected in one way or the other by the TLC.

Various stakeholders had received invites to stick around after the meeting for a reception celebrating the 40th anniversary of the agency whose initials don’t actually abbreviate the words tender loving care.

Rather than a festive birthday party atmosphere, the meeting felt palpably tense. It was the first since the Bloomberg administration won support in Albany for legislation that would legalize street hails for specially permitted livery cars in the outer boroughs.Some in the room had vigorously fought the bill. Arms were tightly folded in many of the chairs as the commissioners went through the day’s agenda.

As the meeting adjourned, various factions of the industry clustered in different areas of the floor like cliques in a high school quad.

The TLC’s longtime press secretary Alan Fromberg asked that people stick around -- that sandwiches were on the way.

When Commissioner David Yassky was asked about the meaning of 40th birthday of the agency that’s responsible for licensing and regulating the city’s cabs and other for-hire vehicles -- he said a lot has changed since 1971 and plenty has stayed the same.

“If you look back over the very first year of the TLC existence they were dealing with two big issues: one was taxis that refused service to Brooklyn and Queens -- still with us -- and the fact that people can’t hail a cab in Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx, Staten Island. That’s also still with us although I believe we are on the verge of solving that one.”

Yassky said he thinks the great triumph of the TLC has been the establishment and maintenance of the brand: the yellow taxi. The mandate that all NYC metered cabs be uniform yellow predates the TLC by a year -- taxis have been officially yellow since January 1st, 1970 -- but 40 years of brand management leaves Yassky proud.

“It’s been known world wide,  respected, admired and desired... The value of the medallion is the proof of it.The value of the medallion has gone up four times the rate of the stock market! So that tells you the TLC does something right."

Sporting his TLC 40th anniversary commemorative lapel pin (left), Yassky boasted, "600,000 people a day get into cabs. That’s not a bubble that’s real.That revenue is going to keep coming in."

David Pollock who represents a group of medallion owners and taxi leasing agents, agreed that the city did a great thing when they created a medallion system.But he criticized the way the TLC was currently being run, on his way to the elevator.

He added, “we have a commission who want to destroy the same medallion system that had worked so well for 75 years who the whole world looks at and models their own transportation systems after.”

Pollock and others believe the new outer borough street hail rule will devalue yellow medallions who have had the exclusive right to street hails since the 1930’s.

Twenty minutes after the commission meeting adjourned, the sandwiches and drinks hadn’t arrived and the last few taxi driver’s left to go grab lunch before shift change.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Carmageddon Ends Early, Cuomo Mum On Taxi Bill, And How Las Vegas Transit Compares to Other Cities

Monday, July 18, 2011

One Angelenos' Carmageddon is another's bike rapture (Photo: (cc) Flickr user Waltarrrrr)


Los Angeles's weekend-long freeway closing finished early -- and is already being mourned by some Angelenos. "I wish they would do it every weekend,"said one. (Los Angeles Times)

DC Metro's escalators don't work well in the rain. And by "well" we mean "at all." (WAMU)

How Las Vegas's transit options compare to other similar cities. (Las Vegas Sun)

Panhandling arrests are up in the NYC subway. (New York Daily News)

Less than a year after Atlanta was awarded a $47 million federal grant to carve a 2.6-mile streetcar route through the heart of downtown, the check is now in the mail. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

NY Governor Andrew Cuomo is not saying whether he'll sign the NYC outer borough taxi legislation. (New York Times)

Airlines are trying to entice customers to spend more money on extras. (Marketplace)

New Mexico is building a spaceport for commercial space flights. (NPR)

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Transportation Nation

NYC's 5-Borough Taxi Plan Not Law...Yet

Thursday, July 07, 2011


(photo by Kate Hinds)

(Kathleen Horan, WNYC)  New York's five-borough taxi plan legislation that would legalize outer borough street hails for livery cars has to take some final steps before it becomes law.

The state senate voted to approve the bill on June 24th, the last night of the legislative session. Lawmakers voted 40 to 21 to pass the bill, but made some changes--including requiring that the new livery vehicles add the 50-cent MTA surcharge on each trip, like yellow cabs now do, and delaying the sale of up to 30,000 street hail permits until January 15, 2012.

The assembly has agreed to approve the surcharge amendment and add it to the already-approved bill, but must wait until the legislature reconvenes in the fall.

Then the bill will hit Governor Cuomo's desk, and he'll have ten days to sign. Cuomo hasn't indicated if he plans to support the bill, which still has powerful opponents -- including some in the livery industry and the yellow taxi lobby.


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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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