Home Taxis State judge torpedos Outer Borough taxi plan

State judge torpedos Outer Borough taxi plan

by Benjamin Kabak

A home rule dispute has put the green borough taxi plan in jeopardy.

A few months after issuing a temporary restraining order against the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s street hail proposal, a New York State Judge put a stop to the program entirely on Friday afternoon. Justice Arthur F. Engoron declared the law granting the Mayor the right to award 1800 street hail licenses and 2000 medallions invalid on home rule grounds, and while the monied medallion industry is claiming victory, city officials plan to appeal. For now, though, the ruling puts a serious dent into a plan to improve taxi access outside of Manhattan and the city budget as well.

The decision — a bit of a rambling 34-page opus on the history of taxis in New York — essentially boils the whole thing down to a home rule issue. Taxis are an inherently local concern, and despite the push and pull of the taxi medallion owners, the Mayor cannot bypass the City Council to get what he wants. (Read the subtleties right here.) So while the overwhelmingly vast majority of taxi rides are airport-based or start in Manhattan south of 96th St., the rest of the city is left with illegal street hails and haggling over the price.

Dana Rubinstein has some choice excerpts from the decision:

“If every cross-border transaction or out of town trip to the theater district created a substantial State interest, the borders might as well be abolished, and the State can just run everything. Occasional trips across the periphery of New York City cannot justify the State Legislature in driving a stake through the heart of home rule.”

“The contents of the subject legislation are all New York City ‘stuff,'” Engoron continued. “The new medallioned taxicabs and [borough taxis] would be picking up passengers, and almost always dropping them off, in New York City. The Mayor, the TLC, the City Council, are all components of New York City government. The new medallions and licenses would be auctioned or sold by the City, for the City’s financial benefit. The City is up to the task of regulating its own taxicabs.”

Afterwards, the various stakeholders pushing the law pledged to keep up the fight. “We are deeply disappointed by the Court’s decision, and will be filing an immediate appeal,” Michael Cardozo, a lawyer for the city, said. “We are confident that the appellate court will uphold the state law authorizing two important transportation initiatives: providing safe and reliable hail service by liveries in areas of the City rarely served by yellow taxicabs, and providing 2,000 more wheelchair-accessible yellow taxicabs for disabled passengers. The irrational fear of lost profits by medallion owners and lenders should not be permitted to derail these important programs.”

David Yassky, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, said the city will appeal the decision, but for now, the money from medallion sales and, more importantly, the taxis won’t materialize.

Not everyone though was upset with the ruling. The Greater New York Taxi Association, an industry group of very wealthy and powerful medallion owners, hilarious called the ruling “a win for democracy, due process of law and the right of New Yorkers to decide how their own city works.” It’s a win for an organization that has successfully used its influence in City Hall to stymie any effort to cut into their government-granted monopoly. Whether it is otherwise a win for proponents remains to be seen.

So negotiations will continue, and this effort may stretch beyond the Bloomberg mayoralty. Scott Stringer has voiced his support for the project, and other 2013 candidates may yet chime in. Hopefully, an agreement can be reached because this is one transportation initiative that should see the light of day.

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Chris August 20, 2012 - 2:25 am

It seems pretty logical to call this a win for democracy. There’s not much point in electing a city council if they have no say in policy-making exclusively related to the city.

Al D August 20, 2012 - 9:36 am

On this issue, it’s fair to say that the City Council is in the pockets of the medallion owners and therefore are not really representing their consituents. Therefore if you define democracy the way Ryan does, i.e. those with the most $, and in this case, those with the most $ in a highly regulated market, the taxi medallion market, then it is a huge loss for democracy and the free market system.

Spendmore Wastemore August 20, 2012 - 8:30 pm

Most people don’t know and don’t care what their city councilor is doing. Thus the few people who have something they want to game from the city, a personal axe to grind, or are just annoying political types effectively choose who wins. That and whoever’s last name sounds good to you.

Yeah, it’s democracy. So was Tammany Hall.

AG August 22, 2012 - 4:06 pm

Chris – the majority of ppl want to be able to hail a cab wherever they want. The City Council is in the pocket of the medallion lobby – which seeks to prevent that. That’s not really democracy then…

n bluth August 20, 2012 - 7:22 am

That’s assuming the city council is acting on behalf of the will of the people.

Bolwerk August 20, 2012 - 9:45 am

Any way this could be used to get congestion pricing through? Another inherently local concern!

Benjamin Kabak August 20, 2012 - 10:12 am

Congesting pricing passed a home rule vote in the City Council and was shot down in Albany. That’s the issue here: There was no home rule request sent from NYC to Albany.

Bolwerk August 20, 2012 - 10:55 am

That’s sort of what I was wondering, but I interpreted his comment (“inherently” a local issue) to be that it was basically in the city’s court and the state should butt out.

Nathanael August 24, 2012 - 12:18 am

Yeah. Shouldn’t NYC be able to pass congestion pricing *all on its own*? I think it’s within the constraints of home rule — at least if it applies to any car which is not on a state or federal highway.

And that can be implemented. Look at London’s Congestion Charge zone. Basically, every side street off the highway had a camera to snap your licence plate photo.

BrooklynBus August 20, 2012 - 10:09 am

Anyone notice that Bloomberg’s first reaction to this news had nothing to do with the needs of commuters. He said this will put a huge hole in our budget which is all he cares about.

Benjamin Kabak August 20, 2012 - 10:11 am

As much as I support the Outer Borough taxi plan, it was sheer lunacy and hubris to rely on it so heavily for budgetary purposes. I just rolled my eyes at that. Yassky and Stringer had much more sensible takes on the ruling.

Peter August 20, 2012 - 10:57 am

I agree with the judge’s ruling on the merits, though I support the outer borough plan. However, I remain pessimistic about whether it would actually result in much change. The fact of the matter is livery cabs already pick up street hails with regularity, and legalization of the practice isn’t going to magically result in greater cab density across the outer boroughs: it just isn’t viable for the drivers. If you need a cab in Bayside, you call one. You don’t stand outside on the corner. That’s true today and it would be true even with outer borough taxis.

Shabazz August 20, 2012 - 1:11 pm

couldn’t have said it better. This is true in other cities as well. You can hail a cab in Downtown Brooklyn and in Williamsburg, but you will NEVER be able to get one in Bay Ridge, with or without this plan.

Ed August 20, 2012 - 12:26 pm

What a minute. New York City has home rule?

Bolwerk August 20, 2012 - 1:08 pm

Apparently somebody here does. Not sure it’s the City.

Billy G August 20, 2012 - 1:53 pm

Put a fork in the medallion-holders, THEY ARE DONE, THEIR MODEL IS *DONE*.

Phone-based hails, be they call-based, SMS-based, or smartphone app-based, will continue to shrink their market share.

This court decision really means nothing.

Al D August 21, 2012 - 9:50 am

Isn’t it great how the free market system works when it’s given the opportunity?

AG August 22, 2012 - 4:05 pm

Livery cabs and medallion cabs don’t “legally” operate in the same way. That’s the issue. The court decisions does matter… just like the court striking down NYC’s try to make the medallion cabs hybrids to cut down on emissions.

Nathanael August 24, 2012 - 12:20 am

That court ruling preventing NYC from regulating the nature of taxis in NYC is clearly contrary to “home rule”.

I sense a Court of Appeals case asking exactly what powers NYC has.

Kai B August 24, 2012 - 8:43 pm

But now the city has managed to mandate the precise model (that weird Nissan thing), so that seems to be a way to get around that.


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