Home Taxis A plan to bring taxi service to the outer boroughs

A plan to bring taxi service to the outer boroughs

by Benjamin Kabak

I moved to Brooklyn in 2006 after spending my youth in Manhattan. When it comes to cabs, I never realized how good Manhattanites have it until landing an in outer borough, and while I rarely rely on a taxi to get around the city, when I do, I find myself fearing the confrontation. Cabbies who pick up fares in Manhattan begrudgingly go to Park Slope and often don’t know the way. Even cabs in other parts of Brooklyn prefer a return ride to Manhattan that a quick jaunt between neighborhoods, and now and then, I’ll have to restort to threats of a 311 call to get my legally required ride.

That could all change under a new plan unveiled by Mayor Bloomberg during his State of the City speech this afternoon. Bloomberg has proposed allowing the city’s fleet of car services and black cabs to pick up passengers who hail them. It is, in essence, legalizing an activity that has gone on under the table for years and would be entirely voluntary. In exchange for this ability to pick up fares though, these car services would have to adopt a metered fare system and opt in to the city’s credit card cab program.

The basic details are straightforward enough. Later this year, the Taxi & Limousine Commission will issue its proposed guidelines, but the mayor said the program will be in place outside of Manhattan. He noted that while 95 percent of cab riders are picked up in Manhattan or the airports, 80 percent of New Yorkers live in the outer boroughs. It is high time, he said, for those residents to be able to get reliable cab service.

“It will give New Yorkers in all five boroughs another safe, reliable and convenient option for getting around. Because whether you’re standing on 42nd Street in Manhattan, or 42nd Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, or 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens, you ought to be able to hail a cab,” the mayor said during his speech in Staten Island.

The Gotham Gazette has already plunged into the issue, and they offer up their instant analysis. Included in the piece is feedback from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Already, those who organize yellow cab drivers feel threatened. “Legalizing an illegal activity because it’s been done for so long will immediately cut into fares, especially during the rush hours when yellow cab drivers who live in the outer boroughs pick up fares at the beginning or end of their shifts,” Bhairavi Desai said. “As liveries bring more riders into Manhattan, what guarantee do we have that the city will stop the illegal activities in Manhattan or the airports? Already, the city has turned a blind eye on such activity throughout Manhattan and the airports, which cuts deep into taxi driver incomes. This is a slippery slope with long-term implications.”

The problem though with the TWA is their willingness to turn a blind eye to other illegal activities. A cab driver must not refuse a fare to any destination within the five boroughs, but as I mentioned, I’ve had to restort to threats of a phone call to get my passage out of Manhattan. I know I’m not alone in that regard either. Many cab drivers won’t allow Brooklyn-, Queens- or Bronx-bound passengers into their cars and are openly hostile to those who leave the five boroughs. Bloomberg’s plan simply puts the rest of us on a better footing when it comes to cabs.

Livery cab owners feel that this move might cut into their business as well, and the opt-in nature of it doesn’t appeal to everyone. Still, no matter the future of this program, it highlights the inherent tensions between yellow cab drivers, the Taxi & Limousine Commission and the Mayor’s Office. David Yassky, the current TLC commission, is a Brooklynite through and through, and he knows the system needs fixing. Bloomberg’s plan could reform the taxi industry, and as taxi service spreads throughout the city, it could lead to fewer private cars on the road. That would be a forward transportation step indeed.

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nycpat January 19, 2011 - 3:20 pm

Sweatshops on wheels. The taxi situation is messed up for everyone but the medallion owners and brokers. If you understood the economics of it from the drivers point of view you’d realize that when you force a driver to go to certain locations you are taking bread out of their mouths.
This law’s most important consequence will be more gypsy cabs trolling Manhattan for fares.

Benjamin Kabak January 19, 2011 - 3:21 pm

This law’s most important consequence will be more gypsy cabs trolling Manhattan for fares.

If the law permits gypsy cabs to pick up only in outer boroughs, they won’t be trolling Manhattan for fares, but they won’t want too many fares to Manhattan.

Marc Shepherd January 19, 2011 - 4:55 pm

There are many Manhattan neighborhoods that are functionally like the outer boroughs, for taxi purposes. Although taxis generally don’t mind taking fares to Washington Heights or Inwood, good luck hailing one there: you will almost never find them. In those areas, people hail gypsy cabs every day, as if they were yellows.

At the Fairway Market in Harlem, there is a whole cottage industry of gypsy cabs to take shoppers home with their groceries.

Al D January 19, 2011 - 5:19 pm

Yes. 96th Street has historically been the cut off point for picking up fares.

tacony palmyra January 19, 2011 - 5:28 pm

Most of the time when people use the word “Manhattan,” they’re using it as shorthand for “Manhattan below 96th Street.” Harlem and Washington Heights and Inwood are functionally Outer Borough neighborhoods in a lot of senses.

yip January 20, 2011 - 12:52 pm

You are exactly right about that, hence the very obvious lack of yellow taxis in those nabes, and the proliferation of gypsy cabs.

The difference that I’ve noticed between when I lived in Harlem (with gypsy cabs) and living in Glendale, Queens (also gypsy cabs, sorta….) is…. in Upper Manhattan, there seem to be more ‘free-wheeling’ gypsy cabs willing to skirt the laws and pick folks up on the street (a good thing from a passenger POV!). Whereas where I now live in Glendale, Queens, many of the gypsy cabs are more closely tie-in with a call-in service, and will only take passengers who’ve called in to request a car (and then you often have to wait at least 10 minutes)! There is also a queue of cars often waiting at the main subway station in the nabe, but often times the MTA will ‘report’ the gypsy cabs, and so then cops will sit there (wasting our tax dollars) to dissuade the gypsy cabs from ‘illegally’ picking up passengers. So what’s a person in such a nabe to do?!

We’ve got slow-as-nails MTA bus service to choose from, or else trying our luck in finding a car that will actually stop for us on the street, assuming no cops are around!

Andrew January 20, 2011 - 10:30 pm

97th and Broadway is not Harlem. Nor is 107th and Broadway. Nor is 117th and Broadway. 127th and Broadway? Probably.

nycpat January 19, 2011 - 5:49 pm

Two or three fares to the Bronx or Brooklyn during a twelve hour shift means taking home $7 an hour instead of $12 an hour. The horse-hire system, instituted during the Koch administration, whereby drivers are $120+ in the hole at the beginning of their shift needs to be reformed. Unlikely as owners and brokers are super connected with whatever pol is elected.
Going back to a system where drivers are employees and keep 49% of the meter would lead to more willingness to take people to the outerboroughs and come back empty. It would also lead to better driving.

Taxi Rider January 19, 2011 - 6:14 pm

Then don’t drive a cab.

If you don’t like the system you’re working under, either change the system or find another job.

Drivers are pissed at consumers who dare to live outside Manhattan? Screw them. Seriously, what choice do we consumers have?

I regularly tip drivers 20% when they take me the dangerous mile across the Brooklyn Bridge because I know it’s a pain but also in the desperate hope that maybe they won’t be so hostile to the next guy who has to go into Brooklyn.

But you know what? I’m perfectly happy hailing a black car to go back into the city if this is the attitude of the licensed hacks. You say screw those of us who live outside Manhattan? Fine, right back at you.

nycpat January 19, 2011 - 7:35 pm

Then don’t live in the boondocks.

Pissed at a system where they fall behind if they have to leave Manhattan.

As well you should. In the’70s going to Washington Heights from Yorkville to visit relatives I saw my parents tip 50-60%.

I’m saying it’s a bad system and I think it’s a rotten thing to do to trick or report a cabbie for declining fares. As a lifelong Manhattanite I am long past tired of the bridge and tunnel crowds’ chip on their shoulder.

Benjamin Kabak January 19, 2011 - 8:37 pm

80 percent of New Yorkers live outside of Manhattan. Most of them aren’t “pissed at a system where they fall behind.” They simply choose to live in nicer neighborhoods or can’t find the space in Manhattan. To hold them hostage to the moods of prickly cab drivers is not only petty but also illegal (and perhaps a violation of equal protection too if the idea of an Outer Borough surcharge were to be approved).

It’s not at all a rotten thing to report a cabbie for declining fares. If he doesn’t want to have to take people to anywhere within the five boroughs, then he should change the system. He can’t create rules designed to protect customers, and I shouldn’t have to bribe a cab driver to do so.

Chris January 19, 2011 - 9:54 pm

I wouldn’t describe it as a rule that protects customers – it shields certain customers from the impact of a fare system that privileges certain rides by making trips to the outer boroughs less profitable. It hurts customers who only travel in Manhattan, who would otherwise benefit from the excess profitability of their trips by greater availability of cabs.

Of course, the really fair thing would be a fare system that doesn’t systematically privilege some trips over others.

However, the bigger issues are the rules of the medallion system which hurt both consumers and drivers. If there were a market clearing number of cabs on the street, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue – drivers would find fares to outer boroughs a lot more attractive if they didn’t know that they were benefiting from a government-imposed shortage of cabs.

nycpat January 19, 2011 - 9:55 pm

How about equal protection for Nassau, westchester and New Jersey. It would certainly be interesting to see how London, Paris or Berlin handles taxis travelling outside the CBD. I know London has two types of cabs; the black ones with career drivers {owner operators?} who have done their “knowledge” and car service types. D.C. has a zonal system.
I was implying by “pissed at a system” that some drivers might be expressing frustration when told to go outside the CBD. You might be ruining their working day.

Benjamin Kabak January 19, 2011 - 9:56 pm

Nassau, Westchester and New Jersey aren’t a part of New York City. It’s a pure local government law issue. Rules for licensed cabbies can’t prejudice people within the boundaries of the five boroughs because some people live in Queens and others Manhattan. They can bar trips outside of the city though.

Ron January 19, 2011 - 10:18 pm

DC did away with the zone structure a few years ago. It’s now a metered system.

dyall January 19, 2011 - 11:55 pm

where does the equal protection for different-borough residents derive from? (and if we’re going to bring it up at all, wouldn’t the better place be in the new proposal permitting outer-borough passengers to hail black cabs and prohibiting manhattan passengers from the same?) also, why do the borough boundaries have to be the fare boundaries? it might make more economic sense to change the rules inside/outside the central business districts. Yellow cabs could get all the street fares in Midtown and Lower Manhattan, plus the areas of Queens and Brooklyn right across the bridges; and black cars could (also) take fares from the streets of Upper Manhattan and the more residential/suburban areas of the outer boroughs. It might change the cab distribution in a really positive way to encourage drivers to make transriver trips.

the trouble w/ a monopoly (on picking up passengers from the street, say) is that the people who benefit from it are the only ones who can provide even the parts of their monopolized service that they don’t want to provide. if cabbies don’t like taking fares into brooklyn heights (and they don’t – taxi rider is right about the dangerous mile across the bk bridge, and benjamin kabak is right about threats being the best way into a cab), then imagine how much they’d hate it if any joe w/ four wheels could pick up the fares from penn station to the east side every morning. it’s not reasonable to expect all the benefits of a monopoly with none of the responsibilities.

Aaron January 20, 2011 - 3:58 am


Where’s your EP argument? To get in the door you need state action, and to get beyond rational basis review (and tolls and distance are certainly rational) you have to have a protected class, and I don’t see any protected classes in terms of residency, except in the voting rights cases where residency was used as indicative of race-based discrimination, usually as a shorthand for voter suppression.

I’m with Dyall – I think we somehow ran afield of what our original issue is. The only plausible EP issue I see is if you were to argue that city regulation was drafted in such a way as to systematically deprive a protected class of access to cabs – for what it’s worth, if it really is that hard to get a cab in minority areas, that may not be a baseless claim. Bear in mind that EP only applies to government action here, it’s not the 14th Amendment that prevents cabbies from discriminating against customers of certain protected classes, it’s state and federal law adopted pursuant to the Commerce Clause and the 14th and maybe 13th Amendments.

Alon Levy January 20, 2011 - 1:22 am

In Morningside Heights and the southern parts of Harlem, it’s actually very easy to pick up taxis at night.

Chris January 19, 2011 - 8:32 pm

If this proposal comes to fruition, the price of a medallion will drop, as the yellow cabs will no longer have a monopoly. This is probably a very good thing for people in the outer boroughs, as I rarely see yellow cabs in good neighborhoods outside Manhattan – unless it is on a direct path to/from an airport.

So – if gypsy cabs start trolling for fares in Manhattan – let them! We’ll see the end of the 5:00 pm “pumpkin hour” where a cab is turned in, leaving commuters bereft of transportation. Since “Gypsys” do not have the high overhead of medallion cabs, we’ll see more cab drivers make an decent living, not having to pay an exorbitant price to lease a cab for the day.

Yes, we’ll have major problems at first – but that’s normal for a sheltered market segment being rapidly subject to real world competition. In the end, we may strike a healthy balance, where one can reliably hail cabs on main streets in Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island….

Chris January 19, 2011 - 10:12 pm

(this is a different Chris)

It’s worth pointing out that the total capitalization of all NYC medallions is in the range of $10 billion. That’s an insane amount, and simply chooses not to. It’s easy to sympathize with cab drivers when you realize the government imposes a half-million dollar fee on them before they can even start doing business – for most everyone else such a policy would be unthinkable.

Woody January 20, 2011 - 2:30 pm

Gee, that $10 billion is a lot of money, about twice what Mayor Bloomberg is said to be worth. How many City Council Members can you buy for $10 billion? I’d guess nearly 35, but about half would be enough. And so I’d guess that Bloomie’s proposal ain’t going nowhere.

The artificial shortage of taxi medallions has resulted in a ruthless monopoly that oppresses the drivers and the riders alike. It was created by the City government, and the City should end it. The regulatory system has been captured by the industry it was supposed to regulate. Now medallion owners will oppose any change at all, claiming it’s a “confiscation” of their hard-won “assets”.

But for a fair was to end the artificial monopoly, consider a phase-out:

The first year, each current medallion owner would be issued a certificate for 1/10th of a medallion. Anyone buying up ten certificates could put another taxi on the streets. Of course, the increased number of taxies on the street would reduce the market value of the existing medallions. That decline in value would be offset to some extent by the sale value of the certificates. So what would 1/10th of medallion be worth? It would not be worth 1/10th of the current medallion value, but it would be worth a lot, depending on what an owner could sell it for. That takes away a lot of the pain of the change.

The second year, another round of certificates issued to owners of medallions as of 2011. Another dip in the value of the old medallions, offset to some extent by the sale price of the certificates, and another 1,000 or more yellow cabs on the streets.

The third year, repeat.

I’m not sure there would be a fourth year. Bloomberg would be out of office and the medallion owners would rally their campaign contribution resources to get a new Mayor and an old City Council that would halt any further reform. But even this partial phase-out would get an increase of about 30% more taxies on the street, without outright “confiscating” anyone’s “assets”.

Eric January 19, 2011 - 3:23 pm

I don’t take cabs very often, but on the occasion that I’ve been asked where I’m going by a cabbie whose has locked his doors, I will lie and tell him someplace in Manhattan. Once I’m in the cab I tell him my actual destination. And they don’t get a tip.

Of course, it helps that I’m stubborn.

dyall January 19, 2011 - 11:57 pm

clever! i tend to prostrate myself. it’s surely rather unbecoming.

BrooklynBus January 19, 2011 - 4:04 pm

I have no sympathy for cab drivers complaining that this plan will take bread out of their mouths. They have brought this about by themselves and it’s about time that the City is waking up and doing something about this problem. There is a simple solution for the cab drivers which is start serving the outer boroughs instead of only Manhattan and the airports and this measure wouldn’t be necessary.

I’ve lived in Brooklyn for over 60 years, and for those of you too young to remember, it wasn’t always this way. Yellow cabs were once plentiful in every borough. If you wanted one, all you had to do was walk to a major street and wait about five minutes, and one would show up and gladly take you anywhere you wanted to go. That’s the way it should be and if this plan passes the City Council, it will be that way once again, but not with yellow cabs.

nycpat January 19, 2011 - 6:03 pm

In those days drivers were employees-who kept 49% of the meter- or owner operators. Now they are independant contractors who start their shifts $120 in the hole. This was Koch’s doing and was of immense value to the owners of medallions. It is the main reason for the awful yellow cab industry we now enjoy.

BrooklynBus January 20, 2011 - 9:05 am

Thanks for the info. Then change the system, or support the current proposal. Either way, the customer shouldn’t be the one to suffer.

noah January 23, 2011 - 6:49 pm

I’d love to have your job.

John January 19, 2011 - 4:32 pm

With the advent of GPS devices, the city could look at scaling medallion costs for each cab based on their primary borough of service — i.e. the cost of a medallion to operate primary in Manhattan would be more than than of a medallion to operate in the outer boroughs, and using the GPS officials could keep a record of the area where cabs primarily operation, so that taking a fare to Manhattan with an outer borough medallion wouldn’t be illegal, but having one for Brooklyn when the cab is spending all its time in Manhattan would be subject to fines.

al January 19, 2011 - 7:24 pm

Speaking of GPS, with the advent of cellphones with GPS features, perhaps there should be a system where a person on a street corner could text a livery cab company for a ride with their location and a small down payment for the ride to go with it to ensure no crank calls.

Al D January 19, 2011 - 4:45 pm

Illegal to pick up fares? Har. Livery Cabs drivers, aka clown cars because they honk all the time and do not drive in straight line, are always looking at me for a pick up fare where I live. Yellow cab? Double har. Only if you’re lucky enough to know the streets on which they return to Manhattan and THEN if you can convince them to go anywhere else other than Manhattan or the airport.

Livery Cabs are death traps IMO and desperately need regulation.

Tsuyoshi January 19, 2011 - 4:52 pm

You could just raise the fare for outer borough trips. If the fare is high enough, cab drivers will go whereever you want, but we have the same fares everywhere. If we’re willing to drop the conceit that you can get Manhattan-level amenities without Manhattan-level density, this is an easy problem to solve.

AK January 20, 2011 - 9:32 am

I this is the most well put together argument on this board. Indeed, it reminds me of the US Postal Service’s rate plan, which, for historical reasons involving the importance of mail in the 18th Century as a method of expanding and maintaining the union of States, has a one-fare structure. 44 cents for a letter no matter where it is going– down the block or to an island off the coast of Alaska. With USPS billions of dollars in the red, many Americans have wondered whether the single-fare structure is sustainable (or has any moral value at all given vast improvements in transportation/communication technology since 1791). Indeed, some have said, as Tsuyoshi said, that if people want to live in the pristine wilderness of the Aleutian Islands, that is fine, but we shouldn’t subsidize their “luxurious” choice. The Manhattan example is somewhat funny, of course, since Manhattan is generally considered more “luxurious” than the outer boroughs, but Tsuyoshi’s point remains an important one: whether the State/City should encourage density (which carries a host of benefits– both political, economic, environmental) or find differential services to be a problem akin to the “Union” concerns of the late 18th Century.

Eric F. January 19, 2011 - 5:25 pm

I wonder if this is an idea to get one or two days of nice news stories after burning up goodwill in the outerboros from the blizzard response. As we all know, each snowstorm immediately becomes an existential challenge to the incumbent political/social order.

The oldsters out there are well-aware that the ‘bring cabs outside of Manhattan’ or some variant comes up in every mayoral administration. The one that seems to work best is benign neglect. In other words, let the unlicensed guys hang out by Main St. Flushing, Jamaica Station, Shea and Yankee Stadiums, etc., and handle what business the market will bear. Getting such a ride within the origin boro, if you have a few bucks in your pocket, is not a challenge. The real challenge is getting from Manhattan to anywhere outside Manhattan, save for a few zip codes in Brooklyn.

nycpat January 19, 2011 - 5:53 pm

Maybe a $10 surcharge for leaving Manhattan would help? Nah the owners would just raise lease rates $9.

D Train January 19, 2011 - 6:54 pm

Key to getting a cab to Brooklyn:

“Hey, I’m going to Brooklyn but I’m paying cash.”

They aren’t going to rob you and they need the cash to wash the car and they know it’s going to be over $20 for fare. The credit card system has at least given me a bargain chit with the drivers. I’ve never had it fail 20+ times using that line.

BrooklynBus January 20, 2011 - 9:07 am

Everyone is talking about getting a cab to “Brooklyn.” How about getting a cab to travel within Brooklyn? That is just as important.

Chris January 19, 2011 - 7:03 pm

Sounds like a great plan from Bloomberg. Good end run around the medallion monopoly, though I’m sure the medallion investors will push the point hard. The massive rents extracted by medallion owners for doing exactly nothing are absurd and eliminating them would be a big step forward for transportation in the city.

KPL January 20, 2011 - 12:30 am

Question: What is a “gypsy” cab?

Benjamin Kabak January 20, 2011 - 12:36 am

Unlicensed cars that offer and charge for rides. Basically, the black taxis that pick up passengers or honk their horns while driving down avenues. You see them a lot in Washington Heights and the outer boroughs.

yip January 20, 2011 - 12:41 pm

As a person who lives in Queens, in an area with limited MTA service, I’m all for Bloomberg’s proposal. In my nabe, while there are livery cabs, some will not pick you up on the street. In addition, I could COUNT the number of times I”ve seen yellow cabs here. Sure, yellow cabs may start their day in one of the outer boroughs, and want ONE fare that will take them into Manhattan (and then back again at the end of their day), but beyond that, I don’t see these livery cabs taking away any business from yellow cabs.

Also, cabs have some nerve to complain. Try getting a yellow taxi to take you from Manhattan to another borough. You’ll get all kinds of snide comments or outright anger coming from the front seat. As a lone female, the LAST thing I need is to be in a taxi for 20 minutes, with some often female-desipising driver who’s also mad that I’m making him go to Queens. In fact, one time a driver had the AUDACITY to ask me if all the trains to Queens were broken down (after I told him I was going to Queens).

So screw them. We in the outer boroughs deserve access to private cars/taxis just like Manhattanites. We have much less choice when it comes to public transportation, so all the more need for us to have MORE cars to hail on the street!

noah January 20, 2011 - 12:54 pm

this is a lot of comments, i don’t have time to read them all. anyways, I make between 40 dollars and 80 dollars doing brooklyn for the beginning of my shift. in that particular time I actually do better if I stay in the brooklyn-queens area as long as it isn’t too far from manhattan, but I don’t refuse anybody, I don’t put the off duty light on, and I don’t enter negotiations, as that would all take the golden fare away from me which would no doubt lead to more fares. And while every other idiot is wasting gas going in circles through the empty streets of manhattan, I’m doing nice and fine, me and about another 10 or 100 or so yellow cabs in brooklyn. What will we do when this system is implemented, It will cut my income by 30 to 50%

plus when the livery cabs get all the things the yellow cabs get, lower fares, meters, and credit card machines, what’s to stop them from searching manhattan during peak hours!??

petey January 20, 2011 - 2:51 pm

very nice website. i esp. like the first shift shot from 2/8/10 (“Downtown”).

Larry January 20, 2011 - 6:32 pm

coming out of JFK two weeks ago, my family and I entered the yellow taxi line for a trip to Long Island. The taxi dispatcher took our information, and as we waited for the taxi to pull up, a gypsy driver, or who knows what, accosted us with the offer to take us. He was not more than 5 feet from the TLC hired dispatcher. Anyone who has come through the NYC airports has encountered the obnoxious, and constant come-ons from these airport hustlers. The TLC, on occasion sweeps through and cleans them out, but they always return. If they are unable or unwilling to enforce existing laws, why will they stop gypsies from picking up in Manhattan or at the airports. Don’t forget, the city sold medallions, over 1,200 of them to the public, with the exclusive right to pick up on the streets and at the NYC airports. This smells of typical Republican bait and switch politics. Maybe he should try another way to solve the problem of transportation in the outer boroughs.

noah January 20, 2011 - 11:36 pm

exactly, and i saw this exact thing happen as well, the dispatcher can’t do anything, because the job is too big for him, it’s a job that needs real heavy enforcement. if a guy with an ordinary car comes in and solicits a fare, and is actually caught by the police, they go to jail probably get their license revoked and their car confiscated. but that makes the job so big, that it is less likely to be enforced all the time.

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