Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Uber ridesharing cap

The New York Times reported that on August 8th, the New York City Council voted to issue a cap on licenses available for for–hire vehicles for one year, which went into effect on August 14th.  The City Council vote was 39 to 6 in favor of the cap. According to the article, New York City became the first major American city on Wednesday to halt new vehicle licenses for ride-hail services, dealing a significant setback to Uber in its largest market in the United States.

However, according to the article, the law allows the Taxi & Limousine Commission to add more licenses if there is a clear need for more vehicles in some neighborhoods.

The City Council also passed a separate law setting a minimum payments for for–hire vehicle drivers.

The article states that “the City continued to support its decision, saying it will not only help the dwindling taxicab industry, it will also aid in reducing traffic congestion and could potentially hike driver paychecks on both sides from a possible hike in fees for riders.”

Reuters reports that the number of for–hire vehicle drivers skyrocketed from 12,600 in 2015 to about 80,000 this year.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said the laws will curtail the worsening traffic on the streets and improve low driver wages.  Speaker Johnson added that the rules would not diminish existing service for New Yorkers who rely on ride-hail apps.

Uber has warned its riders that the cap could produce higher prices and longer wait times for passengers. A yellow taxi driver was quoted as saying that she supports the cap and hopes it will improve business for taxis.

CNN Tech reported that Uber is already planning moves to sidestep New York’s cap, which applies to vehicle licenses, not drivers. With that in mind, Uber said it will ask current drivers to share their vehicles with new drivers. And it hopes to poach drivers from competing services, expanding its presence in the city.

For medallion owners, the interesting question is what impact will the for–hire vehicle license cap have on the value of taxi medallions.

  1. The cap is only for one year, so the impact on taxi medallion values will probably not be significant.

  2. The cap maintains and does not reduce the number of for–hire vehicles, which is another reason why the value of taxi medallions will not increase significantly. However, if the number of for–hire vehicles decreased significantly, then we could expect to see an increase in the value of taxi medallion licenses.

  3. As noted in the CNN Tech article, the cap applies to vehicle licenses not to drivers, so Uber and the other ridesharing services, being the aggressive entities that they are, will likely create strategies to maximize the use of their existing vehicle licenses.

  4. The riding public has voted with their dollars and apps, and they prefer the Uber, Via and Lyft model for transportation over that of yellow taxis; notwithstanding the new locals laws, those companies and their markets will continue to prosper.

  5. Three years ago, the value of a taxi medallion was $715,000, and based on last month's Taxi Limousine Commission data, the value of a medallion is approximately $165,000.

In Jim Shenwick’s opinion, the for–hire vehicle cap will have little to no impact on the value of taxi medallions. It is possible that the new laws may slow the decline in taxi medallion values, but its ability to increase values significantly seems to be unlikely.  It would be foolish for any medallion owner to believe that taxi medallions will return to the stratospheric valuations of 2015. The opinions expressed herein are solely the opinion of Jim Shenwick.

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