The Taxi & Limousine Commission believes it has an Outer Borough* problem. They know that yellow cab drivers, looking to maximize their own profits, dislike long trips out of Manhattan, and they know that in all but the most well-off areas in Brooklyn and Queens, yellow cabs are nearly impossible to come by. The Commission has tried upping fines for belligerent drivers, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put forward an ambitious plan to allow livery cabs to pick up hails outside of Manhattan.
Yet, that plan appears to be on the chopping block. In the face of widespread and well-organized resistance from cab drivers and their advocates, City Hall’s plan to expand the contours of livery service is as good as dead, according to The Wall Street Journal. Per Andrew Grossman, the T&LC, in the face of opposition from the yellow cab drivers, is now looking for ways to, as the Journal says, “use yellow cabs—not livery cars—to expand taxi service outside of Manhattan.” Said on person, “I believe we are completely off the mayor’s original plan. I would go as far as calling it dead.”
Grossman has more on the opposition and the shape of things to come. He writes:
Yellow-taxi owners and drivers have been united in their opposition to Mr. Bloomberg’s initial proposal. They worry that if another type of non-yellow cabs are allowed to pick up people who hail them, revenue from fares and the value of a taxi medallion will decline. They also said that the city doesn’t do enough to enforce rules barring livery cars from picking up passengers without pre-arranged trips.
City officials rejected that argument, saying that since nearly all yellow-taxi pickups take place in Manhattan and at the airports, the new cabs wouldn’t cut into business. The taxi commission is increasing the number of citations it writes for illegal pickups. The City Council’s Transportation Committee is slated to hold a hearing Wednesday on legislation that would raise fines for violators.
Now, though, City Hall seems to be retreating on a central piece of the mayor’s plan for the outer boroughs: letting livery cars pick up passengers who hail them. Instead, the industry, City Council and the taxi commission are talking about plans that “preserve the yellow taxi’s exclusive right to a street hail,” while still giving people in more neighborhoods outside Manhattan the ability to hail a cab, another person familiar with the conversations said.
The details of the new plan are still being negotiated, but Grossman reports that it could include either more medallion sales with pressure to make more Outer Borough pick-ups or yellow cab stands in Outer Borough locations. For what it’s worth, cab stands within Manhattan have been met with limited success. It’s tough to see how that would translate to more availability outside of the island.
The Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky issued a guarded statement about the talks. “We’ve had some truly productive discussions with the Council and the various stakeholders on the plan, and a lot of ideas have gone back and forth across the table. Whatever form the final plan takes, Mayor Bloomberg said in January that we want to see the same high level of taxi service available to people in all five boroughs, and that’s the bottom line,” he said.
The issue though is one of market capitalism vs. a regulated industry. New York City’s yellow cabs are a regulated industry that exists by the grant of medallions from the Taxi & Limousine Commission. Along with that medallion comes terms that require cab drivers to travel anywhere within the five boroughs, but as cab drivers seek to make a living, they find that long trips outside of Manhattan aren’t profitable. There is no guarantee of a return fare, and the trip can take valuable time off the clock.
Yet, 80 percent of New Yorkers live outside of Manhattan and deserve better cab service, and cab drivers operating by a government license shouldn’t deny anyone a ride. A comprehensive plan would address all of these concerns, but with a strong taxi industry pressing back against changes, I’m not optimistic the compromise will be a good one for non-Manhattan residents of the city.
* I don’t use this team as a derogatory reference to parts of the city that aren’t Manhattan. It’s just meant to shorthand so I don’t have to type out “Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx” over and over again.