Can’t get a ‘brake’: NYC taxi drivers fume over plan to lift ride-share cap adding more Uber and Lyft vehicles to city streets

NYC taxi drivers rally against ride-share cap lift
NYC taxi drivers rallied on Nov. 15, 2023 against the city lifting the ride-share cap, allowing for Uber and Lyft to add more vehicles to the city streets.
Photo by Max Parrott

New York City’s taxi drivers have had a bumpy ride the last several weeks.

After the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) abruptly lifted a cap last month on the number of electric Uber and Lyft vehicles on its streets, drivers with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) gathered Wednesday to protest a policy that the union drivers say will drive down their bottom line.

“The [TLC’s] plan to oversaturate the streets with new vehicles is going to be disastrous,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai.

The Alliance has argued that the city’s decision last month to lift the cap on TLC license plates for electric vehicles would flood the roads with an “unlimited” number ride-share drivers in a move that would end up hurting both the Uber and Lyft drivers as well as yellow taxi drivers it represents.

“You work 12 hours in a night, you barely make $300. You barely make $200. How can you afford your bills with that? And on top of that, these people wanna come and flood the street,” said Malang Gassama.

The NYTWA has since filed a lawsuit that the TLC violated city rules by not holding adequate public hearings around the policy, and last week a Manhattan state judge ordered a temporary restraining order against New York the issuance of new licenses to for-hire vehicles.

The city is claiming the pause in applications caused by NYTWA’s lawsuit ended up having the opposite of its intended effect by motivating a last-minute surge of applicants for the electric vehicle licenses.

“As a result of NYTWA’s lawsuit and the TRO, we received a surge of applications for EV licenses in a short period of time,” said TLC Commissioner David Do. “We will be doing everything we can to support these new small business owners as they get on the road towards a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future.”

‘They don’t wanna listen to us’

NYC Taxi Worker Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai
NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai speaks at the Nov. 15 rally.Photo by Max Parrott

The cap on for-hire vehicles is just one fight in a tumultuous period for the taxi union. The Alliance is simultaneously fighting for two pieces of taxi regulation in the City Council, and pushing an exemption for taxi and ride-share drivers from congestion pricing.

The union has argued that the TLC’s new electric vehicle policy is in direct conflict with the MTA’s goal of congestion pricing. Meanwhile it’s calling for an exemption for all yellow cab drivers who already pay two taxes on each trip in and out of western Manhattan to the MTA.

Intros 1078 and 1079, the two city council bills that the union is pushing, would respectively create a city-arbitrated appeals process and set of rights for drivers accused of misconduct and would also regulate ride-share rates.

Though the union covered a variety of issues, the end of the cap was the most animating for the four ride-share drivers who spoke at the rally. 

Alpha Barry, a Lyft driver, said that he agreed with the union that ending the ride-share cap would “flood the road with thousands of thousands of cars.”

Ibrahim Zoure, Lyft driver, argued that for individual drivers who are renting their vehicles at steep rates, the city’s approach should be to limit rental costs rather than creating a new path toward electric vehicle ownership.

“They don’t wanna listen to us. We’ve been struggling. We are the drivers. We know what’s going on on the street more than them,” Barry said before holding his head in his hands on the podium.