The city’s negligence has also had some grave consequences for our common quality of life. Since regulators created very few barriers to entry for these newcomers, they of course stormed, in the tens of thousands, right into the heart of the city’s central business district, helping slow traffic to a crawl.
Don’t take our word for this. Bruce Schaller, one of New York’s most reputable traffic engineers, has singled out Uber and other for-hire vehicles as the major cause of congestion in the central business district — and goes even further to call out the disrupter for undermining mass transit at the same time.
And Schaller makes perfectly clear that taxis — whose numbers, unlike Ubers, are capped by law — have played no role in this burgeoning crisis.
As a result of this Uber-inspired debacle, the city is now facing a congestion crisis so severe that Gov. Cuomo is making solving it a signature 2018 policy initiative of his administration. This week, he’s expected to reveal details of new plans to charge vehicles for traveling into the heart of Midtown.
Our fear, though, is that in looking to solve the growing problem, the state will advance policies that fail to get at the heart of the matter — and that will, in the process, further victimize medallion owners.
Even the policy advice offered by someone as sophisticated as Schaller is concerning.
In the face of his clear-eyed evaluation of how Uber has caused a traffic nightmare, Schaller beats a hasty retreat from the obvious conclusion: that Uber and its imitators need to be reined in through regulations that restrict their boundless proliferation, and that treat all of these e-hails — as the European Union is now moving to treat them — just like any other taxi company.
Instead, he suggests that Uber and Lyft self-regulate by modifying their algorithms to cut down on the cruising times of their cars in the central business district.
Meantime, even after acknowledging that taxis have not contributed to this growing mess, Schaller proposes a mandate on yellow-cab owners — already the most highly regulated group in the transportation industry — “to reduce time spent in the central business district.”
This is consistent with a false evenhandedness we now commonly hear, one that would place the same fees on both taxis and Ubers — as if both segments are now equally regulated and equally responsible for congestion.
That’s just not so.
Back in 2012, Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed adding 2,000 new medallions for wheelchair-accessible taxis — bringing the overall medallion total to its current level of 13,587. The proposal needed both Albany’s approval and triggered a full environmental review.
Through these sales, the city hoped to generate more than $1 billion. Cuomo gave his approval and the deal went through — even though the environmental review determined that the additional cabs would create a significant negative impact on the environment.
Compare and contrast. There are now some 68,000 Uber cars total, and the city’s regulators tell us that they are licensing an additional 2,000 such cars every month — without a single environmental review.
Taxi medallion owners have paid dearly into the municipal system — and continue to pay every year with a panoply of fees, one example being the 50 cents a ride that goes directly to the MTA; Ubers are exempt from paying that fee.
Yellow cabs do so because the city said this was in exchange for the exclusive right to pick up street hails — a right that was abrogated when the regulators allowed the Ubers in with absolutely no limits.
Now that it is clear where the blame lies for Midtown’s overly clogged streets, the false equivalency between taxis and Uber is not a reasonable path forward. Whatever the city and the state decide to do about congestion must be focused exclusively on the unregulated free riders and not the already fiscally obligated medallion owners, many of them immigrants, who have been paying into the system and following the rules for 80 years.
Hervias and Guerra are taxi medallion owners and members of the Taxi Medallion Owner Driver Association.
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