The Big Apple became the first major city in the country to slam the brakes on Uber’s breakneck expansion when the City Council voted Wednesday to put a freeze on new for-hire vehicles.
The new regulation — part of a sweeping package of bills aimed at improving driver pay while stanching the flood of new e-hail cars onto city streets — is seen as a victory for drivers and anti-congestion warriors who have decried the lack of regulation on e-hail companies.
The council, in a 39-6 vote, approved a one-year moratorium on the issuance of new for-hire-vehicle licenses while it studies the impact that the rapidly growing industry is having on the city.
Mayor de Blasio said he would sign the bills into law.
The number of licensed for-hire vehicles has tripled since 2011 — from 38,600 to 112,000 as of July this year, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The bill carves out an exception for new wheelchair-accessible cars, and there is no limit on the number of licensed livery drivers — only the number of cars. Vehicles in the process of applying will be grandfathered in, according to TLC reps.
The app-hail industry has been adding 2,000 cars a month to Big Apple streets, according to sponsor Councilman Steve Levin, who has been pushing the cap bill since 2015.
“The market is in fact oversaturated, and drivers are struggling to make ends meet … the one-year cap prevents further saturation of the industry,” Levin said ahead of the vote Wednesday.
Uber has cautioned the move could reduce New Yorkers’ transit service options.
Uber has cautioned that the move could hurt New Yorkers in transit-starved neighborhoods.
“The city’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion,” said Uber rep Alix Anfang.
Uber officials said the company would try to convert the drivers of roughly 40,000 for-hire vehicles who currently don’t work for the company but could switch over at any time because their vehicles are already licensed with the TLC, and thus not subject to the cap.
Councilwoman Inez Barron said she voted against the bill because she believes services such as Uber discriminate less against people of color and outer-borough residents.
“I think my community will be hindered, suffer, and not have the services they need,” she said.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg and Bushwick, disagreed the measures would prevent people of color from catching a ride.
“I don’t think that putting a cap on over 89,000 licenses is going to stop that from happening in my district,” he said.
Councilman Eric Ulrich of Queens said the city should mind its own business and let the market dictate whether the Ubers and Lyfts of the world succeed.
“This is like putting a cap on Netflix subscriptions because Blockbusters are closing,” he said.
Another of the bills requires the TLC to set minimum pay rates for drivers at large firms, and grants the TLC the right to do the same for smaller firms. A study conducted by the TLC suggested drivers be paid $17.22 an hour, before tax and the cost of vehicle maintenance, but the study was not binding.
The TLC could set and enforce driver minimum wage as early as October, according to bill sponsor Brad Lander.
A trio of bills introduced by Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr. creates new licensing requirements for app-hail vehicles to bring them on par with yellow cabs, waive such licensing fees for wheelchair-accessible cars and lower fines levied on for-hire vehicle drivers who pick up unauthorized street hails.
Diaz — who chairs the council’s committee on for-hire vehicles and last year took more than $12,000 in taxi-industry campaign donations — lashed out at a reporter as “fake news” Wednesday for asking him about the arrangement.
A reporter tried to ask Diaz about the apparent conflict of interest at a press conference when the councilman interrupted him: “Name me one. No fake news! Name me one and then I will answer you.”
Speaker Corey Johnson defended Diaz’s appointment to the panel.
“I don’t think anything we are doing today is a giveaway to the yellow taxi industry,” he said, referring to the bills passed.
The new regulations come following the suicides of six financially strapped taxi and livery drivers who blamed a lack of regulation on e-hail cars for their own financial demise.
“We believe the tragic suicides we have seen in this city are because we haven’t taken a real look at how to regulate the industry fairly…this package of bills is not punitive. It is careful, it is thoughtful,” Johnson said.
“This victory belongs to yellow cab, green cab, livery, black car, Uber and Lyft drivers who united together in our union to transform our shared struggle and heartbreak into hope and strength,” said New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai.
Source: NY Post