With Mayor Bloomberg’s plan to allow livery cabs to pick up cruise for passengers hitting a bump in the road, yet another of his campaign promises to improve transportation in the city may falter. Yesterday, I discussed the opposition to the plan from the well-organized yellow cab driver industry, and today, The Times sheds some more light on the rejiggered proposal. The Mayor isn’t going to let this promise die without some type of compromise.
According to Michael Grynbaum’s sources, the city is trying to develop the contours of a solution that would bar soe cab drivers from making pick-ups in Manhattan. In an effort to incentivize drivers to better serve Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, these cabbies would be able to purchase cut-rate medallions limited by the geography of the individual boroughs. He reports:
The city is weighing a proposal to create a class of yellow cabs that would be prohibited from picking up passengers in most of Manhattan, the taxicabs’ traditional territory, but would be able to do so in other parts of the city, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
Under the plan, which is being made final, new medallions would be issued for the restricted cabs. The medallions would be sold for a small fee, or, in one version of the plan, at no cost. Regular medallions, which bestow the right to pick up passengers on any city street, are typically sold at auction and can be worth nearly $1 million.
Officials say the revised proposal would achieve their goal of providing better regulated, more equitable taxi service to the wide section of New York City that is perpetually underserved by yellow cabs, which congregate in denser parts of Manhattan where they are more likely to find fares.
With this newest proposal, the city is, as Grynbaum put it, looking to “mollify yellow-fleet owners who feared their medallions would lose value” if livery cabs were allowed to pick up hails. This new plan may encroach upon the turf of private car companies, but the Taxi and Limousine Commission thinks it will provide lower-cost taxi transportation. “The mayor’s bottom line is quality taxi access in all five boroughs,” TLC Commissioner David Yassky said. “I am confident we’re going to get there.”
The Taxi & Limousine Commission says it can enforce the geographic limits through GPS tracking, but deep concerns remain over the profitability of such a plan. In a piece on WNYC, which you can listen to below, Kathleen Horan explores why cabbies think Outer Borough rides are unprofitable. The issues, she says, concern return trips and the need to pick up a certain number of passengers to make a living.
Essentially, cab drivers say they need between 20-30 trips to make a profit, and long trips to the Outer Boroughs with no guarantee of a return fare eat into their time and intake. Still, says the TLC, part of the agreement that comes with the medallion requires cab drivers to take passengers anywhere within the city, and the commission is looking to raise fines to $500 for drivers who refuse any city-based trips.
If current medallion owners do not find it worth their whiles to take passengers to the far reaches of Brooklyn or Queens, it’s doubtful that an Outer Borough-based medallion system which bars drivers from cruising the most popular of avenues in Manhattan will alleviate that crush. Even with cheap medallion prices, cab drivers have to combat gas at $4 a gallon and a host of other daily costs that require them to stay busy throughout the day.
Finally, cab drivers are also seeking a fare hike as well. Outside of the MTA surcharge added in 2009, cab fares have not increased in seven years, and rider activists say those rising gas costs are eating away at slim profit margins. The Taxi Workers Alliance is proposing an increase in the per-mile rate from $2 to $2.50 while all other surcharges and the drop-off fee would remain the same.
“When gas hits $4.50 a gallon, it can make it hard for a driver to pay the rent and put food on the table,” Yassky said of the request. “We will give it a look and evaluate it on the merits.”