NYC Council to hear bills leveling playing field a bit for taxis, Uber

by Sean Riley


Crains

The City Council’s Transportation Committee will hear five bills regulating for-hire vehicles Monday, including one that would prohibit drivers from charging more than 20% of the initial fare estimate.

Another bill creates a universal license for taxicab and for-hire vehicle drivers, removing a requirement that drivers pass a written English exam. Others address security protocol for information collected from passengers and rules for street hails and aging vehicles.

“The set of bills that we are introducing is just the beginning of the conversation, and those bills were identified as a result of extensive consultation with all sectors of the industry,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said at a Crain’s breakfast forum last week.

The bills do not address the issue of the number of Uber drivers on the road, worker protections for drivers, or wheelchair accessibility, all of which have been concerns among advocacy groups. Half of yellow cabs must be wheelchair-accessible by 2020, but no such mandate exists for electronic dispatcher Uber and other for-hire companies.

“I think they don’t know what to do with [the issue],” said Jim Weisman, president of wheelchair users’ group United Spinal Association.  “But why move on this until you have a comprehensive package, until there is a comprehensive solution?”

 “It’s not the end of the conversation,” Mark-Viverito said. “We’re going to look at this continually and try to make another set of recommendations.”

An Uber spokesman said Friday that the company was reviewing the legislation and would submit testimony at Monday’s hearing.

Taxi medallion owners have been struggling to find drivers, as many have shifted to Uber and other so-called "gig economy" companies such as Lyft, Via and Gett. The universal license could help medallion owners recruit new drivers by making it easier to get a hack license.

The bill on aging vehicles would also make the playing field more level by limiting the number of years for-hire vehicles can remain in service. Previously, taxis had to be replaced every three or four years, while their rivals could drive their cars into the ground.

Taxi interests have also been seeking more equity on fares, and could see the bill with the 20% clause as a step in that direction. Cabs are bound by the fares set by the Taxi and Limousine Commission and printed on the outside of every taxi. Uber and other black-car providers have far more flexibility on pricing.

The City Council's Progressive Caucus, of which Mark-Viverito was a member before she became speaker, is looking to help Uber drivers and other gig-economy workers, but measures to do that are not part of the legislative package being considered Monday. Uber could be expected to resist any attempt by the council to dictate the compensation, benefits and working conditions of its drivers, who are independent contractors, not Uber employees.