On Tuesday evening, the New York City Council introduced a bill to place a temporary cap on the number of for-hire vehicles — the kind provided by services like Uber and Lyft — allowed on the city’s streets.
It’s about time: In recent years these cars have flooded New York, clogging our streets and driving down fares and with them, income for tens of thousands of drivers. Professional drivers, more than 90 percent of whom are immigrants of color, once earned a middle-class living but now face eviction, bankruptcy and even hunger. In the last year six of them have committed suicide.
There is no doubt that New Yorkers benefit from for-hire vehicles, especially those in parts of the city, like my district in southeastern Queens, where regular taxis are few. The cap will allow the city time to study how many cars we really need to meet consumer demand while maintaining full-time driver incomes.
It’s critical for New York to regulate minimum fare rates — the only source of income for drivers — across the taxi and app-dispatch sectors, so no worker gets left behind. The bill gives the Taxi and Limousine Commission that authority. It would also allow the Commission address incomes for app-based drivers, 85 percent of whom now make
below minimum wage.
App companies now charge passengers a flat rate — but pay drivers based on a different, usually lower rate of fare — and pocket the difference. Sometimes that fare is higher than yellow cab fares, but other times app companies subsidize fares, operating at a loss to outcompete yellow taxis, and further reducing incomes for drivers in both sectors.
App drivers and those working in the traditional yellow cab industry are largely one and the same. Drivers go back and forth between the sectors as they struggle to earn a living, and our solutions must address the crisis for all drivers.
For many New Yorkers, especially immigrants, driving is one of the few viable ways to make a living. These drivers come from 167 countries on the planet and speak hundreds of languages. That’s why it is especially important that the council act: A traditional pathway to economic security, one that sustains this great city of immigrants, is being choked off.
Predictably, companies like Uber and Lyft have argued that the bill will actually hurt these communities by reducing the availability of for-hire cars in immigrant neighborhoods that are poorly served by traditional taxis and public transportation.
But those who live in the outer boroughs need not fear: There are already 98,000 cars available to us — 80,000 app-dispatched vehicles, 4,000 green cabs (or boro taxis, which can pick up street hails only outside the lower part of Manhattan) and 14,000 radio-dispatched livery cars.