As the flurry of legislative activity wrapped up in Albany last month, the Assembly and Senate took taxicab matters into their own hands. With some urging from Mayor Bloomberg, state representatives chose to act with the knowledge that the City Council would kowtow to the demands of the medallion owners and stymy the bill. Now, nearly a month later, we wait to see if Gov. Andrew Cuomo will sign the bill or veto it. Whose interests is he protecting?
The plan, as I’ve outlined in the past, is geared toward ensuring that underserved areas of the city can legally hail taxis. The plan will put up for sale 30,000 medallions for $1500 with conditions. These medallions can only be used for street hails north of 96th St. in Manhattan and anywhere in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. They are designed to improve access to taxis while ensuring that areas where current taxi drivers say they pick up just three percent of passengers have legitimate street service.
In The Times today, Christine Haughney goes behind the scenes at the intense lobbying taking place in Albany. Cuomo has allowed the bill to sit on his desk for the better part of a month as he mulls over the fate of surface transportation for millions of New Yorkers who live in areas underserved by yellow cabs. He has been silent. She reports:
The fleet owners have stepped up efforts to persuade the governor to veto the legislation, arguing that the measure could jeopardize one of the city’s most vital industries. David Pollack, executive director of the Committee for Taxi Safety, a group that handles leasing operations for yellow medallions, said taxi drivers continue to send letters and call the governor’s office to oppose a plan that “would devastate 50,000 hard-working taxi drivers by flooding the market with new taxis.”
Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, echoed Mr. Pollack’s fears, adding that these cars would limit yellow taxi service. “We are currently educating the governor’s office on the many policy, economic, procedural, legal, operational and logistical problems with this bill,” Mr. Woloz said…
Micah C. Lasher, Mr. Bloomberg’s chief lobbyist in Albany, said the mayor would continue to talk with the governor about how “this represents important and very positive public policy for the residents of New York City.” At the same time, Mr. Lasher said, “we plan to be responsive to the concerns of medallion owners in implementing the plan.”
While medallion owners are lobbying against the bill, the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commissioner David Yassky says residents are eager for the changes. “We’ve gotten tremendous reaction from people in Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx,” he said to The Times. “Not a day goes by when I don’t hear people say, ‘That’s such a great idea.’”
The economics of the opposition doesn’t make much sense, and Cap’n Transit has written an extensive takedown of the system and new plan. (Start poke around his site.) If taxi drivers aren’t keen on going to these underserved areas and don’t cruise around for fares, they won’t lose business, and the yellow medallions, which still provide exclusive street service in Manhattan and pickups at the airport, won’t really be devalued that much. It’s certainly not going to devastate the 50,000 cab drivers as, if anything, it will impact the rich medallion owners instead.
So we wait on Cuomo, and we wait for a key piece of transportation legislation. Taxis are an integral part of a public transit network. Sometimes, the subway or a bus can’t take us where we need to go. Sometimes, we need the trunk space, the speed or the convenience of a car service. Comprehensive taxi service allows for less car dependence in an urban area. Cuomo should sign the bill.