The battle between Uber and City Hall intensified Thursday as the City Council prepared for a possible vote next week on capping black and livery cars -- and the company used their app to rip Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Uber users Thursday found a new option in the app called "De Blasio," next to its other services. When riders tapped on it, the app gave a wait time of 25 minutes and urged riders to email the mayor and City Council. "Say NO to de Blasio's Uber!" it read.
That followed TV ads that started running Wednesday and said the cap would destroy thousands of jobs.
"Mayor de Blasio's plan to stop Uber will cost 10,000 jobs, hurt undeserved areas and make wait times for Uber cars skyrocket," said David Plouffe, the chief adviser for Uber, in a statement. "With this view, New York City riders can see for themselves how much time this political payback to big taxi owners will cost them."
Last month, the City Council proposed two bills that would sharply limit the number of black, livery and luxury cars -- as well as introduce a study by the Department of Transportation that would look at the impact of the explosion for for-hire vehicles. The Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability would also be involved in the study.
The cap would be in effect until the end of August 2016 or until the study was completed -- whichever occurred first.
It would limit bases with more than 500 cars to just a 1% growth in new vehicles during that period. Uber, which says it has gained 26,000 drivers since launching in New York in 2011, said it would only be able to add 201 drivers during the cap.
There have been 25,000 new black, livery and luxury limo cars added to the city since 2011. The Taxi and Limousine Commission said it has been issuing 2,000 new for-hire vehicle licenses every month since July 2014.
It also said that many of the passenger pickups are taking place in Manhattan's busiest neighborhoods. Average Manhattan traffic speeds were just 8.5 mphs in 2014, the city DOT said.
The tension has been building since Plouffe and others from Uber met with Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris on Monday evening. Shorris raised all of City Hall's concerns with Uber -- which ranged from traffic congestion and surge pricing to wheelchair accessibility and protection for workers, according to a spokesman for the mayor. Another issue is that Uber cars, which are registered to black car bases, don't pay an MTA tax like yellow cabs.
The spokesman said the two groups came to an impasse when Uber said it would never accept any cap and would not project how big it wanted to go in New York.
Uber said City Hall officials promised to reach out to the company on Tuesday morning, but did not call them. They then held a news conference at Sylvia's Restaurant that afernoon where they said the proposed bills were a cap on jobs.
"The takeaway from the meetings was that this isn't about congestion; it's about the mayor being able to say he stopped Uber," said Josh Mohrer, general manager for Uber in New York City. "No one from the DOT< which would supposedly conduct the study, was even there and the issue was hardly mentioned."
The City Council could vote on the two bills, currently in the transportation committee, as early as next Thursday. They have been backed so far by the committee's chairman Ydanis Rodriguez, as well as Councilman Stephen Levin, who reps neighborhoods like Williamsburg. Queens Councilman Costa Constantinides, whose district includes Astoria, and Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca, of Sunset Park, also back it. Councilmen Daneek Miller, Antonio Reynoso and Jimmy Van Bramer declined to comment officially on how they planned to vote. Others did not return calls.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which said it represents between 3,000 and 5,000 Uber drivers, supports the bill and has been calling for a cap for months. As more drivers join Uber, the competition has become fiercer for fares. "It's definitely a race to the bottom," said Bhairavi Desai, which has one base in New York and launched in 2013, said it supports the traffic study but not he cap.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which said it represents between 3,000 and 5,000 Uber drivers, supports the bills and has been calling for a cap for months. As more drivers join Uber, the competition has become fiercer for fares.
"It definitely is a race to the bottom," said Bhairavi Desai, who heads the group. "The more cars Uber put son the street, it's more competition on the app, and more congestion for everyone."
Uber's rival Lyft, which has one base in New York and launched in 2013, said it supports the traffic study but not the cap.
"The proposal will not solve traffic congestion in New York, but it will certainly undermine competition, erode driver earning potential and hurt consumers," said the company in a statement.
--with Ivan Pereira and Carla Sinclair