Thursday, February 07, 2019
New York Times: Your Taxi or Uber Ride in Manhattan Will Soon Cost More
By Winnie Hu
It is not enough that a subway fare increase could soon make traveling underground in New York City more expensive. The cost of getting around above ground is going up, too.
An extra $2.50 fee will be tacked onto any yellow taxi rides in Manhattan that begin, end or pass through south of 96th street, and an extra $2.75 fee will be added for other for-hire vehicles, including Ubers and Lyfts — all before the car even starts.
The new ride fees were supposed to start Jan. 1, and are intended to raise more than $1 million a day to help fix the city’s broken subway system. New York is following a growing number of states and cities, including Chicago and Seattle, that have adopted similar per-ride fees in recent years to pay for public transportation and other services.
In New York, the new ride fees had been temporarily blocked at the last minute by a lawsuit filed by a coalition of taxi owners and drivers who called it a “suicide surcharge” that would drive away customers and devastate an industry already crumbling under financial pressures.
Judge Lynn R. Kotler of State Supreme Court disagreed, ruling Thursday that the new ride fees could proceed, noting that the taxi coalition had not “demonstrated irreparable injury.” But she did deny a motion from the state to dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the coalition’s arguments merited moving the case forward.
The $2.50 fee will raise the minimum taxi fare to $5.80 in Manhattan.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s office would not say when the fees would start.
The new ride fees are seen as the first step in passing a comprehensive congestion pricing plan for Manhattan that would charge all vehicles a fee to drive in the busiest neighborhoods and help reduce gridlock. The fees were approved last year by the State Legislature and also included a 75-cents fee for shared car-pool services.
The taxi coalition argued in its lawsuit that the fees would “drive the final nail in the proverbial coffin by making medallion taxicab rides so financially unattractive to consumers that the industry is sure to collapse in its entirety.”
But lawyers for the state attorney general’s office countered that the lawsuit hurt city transit riders, and that every day the new fees went uncollected meant less money for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the subways.
Patrick Muncie, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, said the decision was “a positive step in our efforts to find a dedicated revenue stream for our subways and buses, as well as easing congestion in Manhattan’s central business district.”
But taxi owners and drivers criticized the judge’s decision, saying it would only add to their problems. Many are already struggling with enormous debt as the value of their taxi medallions — the aluminum plate that once sold for more than $1 million — has plummeted. Three taxi owners and five other professional drivers have committed suicide over the last year.
“It’s a big problem — that means people will not ride in taxis anymore,” said Mahmud Hossain, 54, a yellow taxi owner and driver from Astoria, Queens. “It’s very hard.”
Mr. Hossain said that he typically takes home $70 or less after a 12-hour shift, or about half of what he used to make five years ago before ride-hailing apps started taking away customers. He worries that he will take home even less now.
Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said taxi drivers would feel the effect right away from the new fee. “Their income will drop immediately and force them to delay decisions over food and medicine,” she said.
Ms. Desai called on the governor to hold off collecting the new fee while the lawsuit continues and said her group would lobby state legislators to pass an exemption for taxis from the new fee.
“Implementing the surcharge while the lawsuit continues could put the industry in the predicament of figuring out how to refund passengers, even those who paid with cash, should the drivers ultimately win the case,” she said.
With the new $2.75 fee, the cost for Uber, which has an $8 base fare in Manhattan, will also rise to a minimum of $10.75. But Uber and two other ride-app services, Lyft and Via, have supported the fees
as a step toward addressing congestion and transit challenges in the city.
The taxi lawsuit had argued that taxis should not be charged a “congestion tax” because their number has been capped by city law at 13,587 “to prevent an overabundance of cars and congestion,” even as Uber and other ride-app services were allowed to expand exponentially. In August, the city declared a one-year moratorium on new vehicle licenses for Uber, Lyft and other ride-app services.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has supported the new taxi fee, but Meera Joshi, the commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, has said it would be “potentially devastating” for the taxi industry.
David Graves, 60, a taxi driver for almost two decades, said he was frustrated that the city had created the congestion problem and was now trying to address it by turning taxis into “unpaid tax collectors for the M.T.A.”
“This is my future, this is the future of the New York City taxi,” he added.
Copyright 2019 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.
Posted by James Shenwick