Despite opposition, City approves rules for outer-borough cabs
The city approved new rules on Thursday that clear the way for livery cabs to legally pick up street hails in parts of the city underserved by yellow taxis.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission voted 7-2 in favor of licensing up to 18,000 livery cabs to accept hails in the outer boroughs and northern Manhattan by this summer, despite strong objection of yellow medallion owners, who vowed to fight the law in court. Livery drivers are currently only allowed to accept prearranged pickups.
TLC Chairman David Yassky called the new rules the “biggest change in taxi policy in 30 years” and said they would try to fulfill the needs of passengers outside Manhattan, who illegally hail a cab an estimated 100,000 times each day.
“The city government did let this problem go on for a long time — for decades we looked the other way as illegal taxis grew,” Yassky said. The new regulations, he said, “will bring real taxi service to the four-fifths of the city who don't have it today.”
The taxi plan was first floated by Mayor Michael Bloomberg early last year, but he turned to state legislators when the City Council didn't put it into law. Gov. Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal just before the end of the year, which required 20% of the so-called “outer-borough cabs” to be wheelchair accessible. Under Cuomo's agreement, the city will also sell 2,000 wheelchair-accessible yellow medallions, expected to bring in more than $1 billion. The three-year livery licenses, which prohibit drivers from picking up riders in midtown and lower Manhattan and at area airports, are $1,500. Livery fares will be calculated by the same metered rates as yellow cabs.
Thursday's daylong public hearing and vote got raucous, with both sides heckling and booing each other. Two people were temporarily tossed from the hearing for their outbursts.
Yellow cab owners blasted the TLC's decision, saying it was “unnecessarily rushed” and certain that it would hurt their businesses and their medallions' value. Two commissioners sided with them, suggesting a vote be postponed until more studies could be done.
“Medallion owners were sold the exclusive right to pick up street hails — it's as simple as that,” said Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which filed a lawsuit on Wednesday asking a judge to toss out the new policy. “Now, they're being told they no longer have that right."
"If you don't have the exclusive right, then what do you have,” he continued, “A piece of tin to put on your car? The right to paint it yellow?”
But Cira Angeles, spokeswoman for the Livery Base Owners Association, said the new rules “brought legitimacy” to livery drivers, adding that it was a fair outcome because yellow cabs were “ignoring” passengers outside Manhattan.
“We've waited for so many years,” she said after the vote, hugging Yassky. “Our lives will change for the better.”
When asked about the resistance to the new rules, and the lawsuit trying to negate them, Yassky dismissed the lawsuit as “frivolous."
"The opposition from the yellow industry was never gonna go away,” Yassky said after the vote, adding, “I think the yellow taxis will be just fine.”