While announcing his commitment to stay the course with budget cuts, Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought to make New York City into the land of plenty when it comes to taxi cab rides. He announced a plan to allow previously informal livery cars the right to pick up passengers on the street in the outer boroughs. Such a plan would greatly enlarge the number of available cabs beyond just the city’s yellow cab fleet. However, the decision also threatens to add to the mayor’s growing list of enemies by alienating a group that has been at odds with City Hall before and has demonstrated the ability to disrupt the functioning of the city – the New York Taxi Worker’s Alliance.
“We are stunned by the mayor’s proposal to turn liveries into taxis in the outer boroughs.” stated Bhairavi Desai, the feisty executive director of the Alliance. “Legalizing an illegal activity because it’s been done for so long will immediately cut into fares, especially during the rush hours when yellow cab drivers who live in the outer boroughs pick up fares at the beginning or end of their shifts.”
Fare cuts are a serious issue since most yellow cab drivers begin each day with a debt. Drivers pay for the lease of the taxi medallion from the garages they drive from, in addition to expenses for gas and upkeep. Once they leave the garage, they face the New York Police Department, which has an entire unit dedicated to tracking yellow cabs and dishing out moving violation tickets. All told, the Alliance estimates that each driver begins their shift anywhere from $130 to $190 in debt. One false move that produces a ticket ensures that they will end up losing money on the shift.
The new rules regarding informal livery cabs will severely cut into the fare-generating prospects of the yellow cabs. Once legalized, the informal cabs will almost certainly gravitate to high fare zones at outer borough transportation hubs and eventually will seek to penetrate the Manhattan market. Indebted yellow cab drivers may find their prospects slimming even further, especially during peak hours.
Residents in the outer boroughs may find themselves in the middle of a new taxi war as informal livery cabs square off against yellow cabs. Of course, Manhattan, the pet borough of the mayor, will be spared such chaos. No matter how many cabs are made available, no substitutes exist here for a fully functioning public transportation system.
The Alliance also highlighted other recent changes that have hurt the yellow cabs. The city has allowed the yellow cabs to process credit cards in their cars. However, the officials also tacked on a 5% processing fee for the service that comes out of the driver’s earnings. In addition, the 50 cent per ride tax imposed by the state has been resented by riders, and the Alliance reports that passengers generally blame the drivers for the hike.
While the fees have increased, competition is also on the rise. There are a record number of yellow cab drivers in the city as the economic recession forces people out of other employment. Each is competing for a dwindling number of passengers as economically strapped New Yorkers head to subways and buses. Meanwhile, no reform proposal has been discussed to reduce the costs of leasing the medallion or to issue more medallions in order to allow the spread of yellow cabs to the boroughs.
Desai spoke plainly about the Mayor’s plans: “The mayor is proposing a second tier taxi market that will make second-class citizens of taxi drivers.”
And the drivers have proven that they are capable of fighting back. A September 2007 strike against the forced implementation of GPS tracking devices severely disrupted transportation in the city. The current squeeze on drivers could produce similar outbursts.
Seems as though the only thing Mayor Bloomberg has to offer New Yorkers are budget cuts and a new version of the taxi wars. Too bad for the rest of us who are confined to the city’s ailing public transportation system. One smells good days for the mayor’s two favorite groups in the city – business people and tourists – who will benefit from the reduced fares. No tears would be shed for either if they were made to finance a little more justice for taxi drivers.
Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and the editor of the Socialist WebZine. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the NYC Indypendent, Spectrezine and the Monthly Review Zine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Become a FAN on Facebook