A congestion fee on taxi and other for-hire vehicle rides below 96th Street that was scheduled to go into effect on January 1 has been blocked by a judge following a lawsuit brought by drivers. The fee cannot go into effect until the judge makes a decision on January 3.
The fee is slated to add $2.50 to yellow cab rides and $2.75 to green cab rides. Some of the money raised by the fee, an estimated $400 million, would go to fund subway repairs. Yellow cabs already have a 50 cent fee that is funneled directly to the MTA—the congestion fee would provide additional funding to the MTA.
A coalition of members from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance filed a lawsuit on December 19 against the Taxi and Limousine Commission and Governor Cuomo seeking to stop the congestion surcharge. They say the judge’s temporary restraining order sets precedent for the judge to exempt yellow and green taxis from the fee, noting a 2009 exemption on a 50 cent fee for liveries.
“We are elated by this ruling. We know the fight is long from over, but we feel relieved and encouraged that a judge is telling the Governor to listen to our suffering,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. “There is a real crisis here. And Governor Cuomo has the power to help drivers instead of adding an additional crushing burden on a workforce already facing financial despair.”
The value of yellow taxi medallions has been plummeting amid competition from ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft. In June, it was announced 139 medallions would head to bankruptcy auction. The medallions were once worth as much as $1.3 million but have recently been auctioned off for as little as $160,000. Eight professional drivers in New York have taken their own lives within the past year, says the Taxi Workers Alliance. In October, the Taxi and Limousine Commission announced that it would waive the $1,100 renewal fee for the city’s 11,286 medallion owners.
The alliance also found that Uber spent over $100,000 lobbying for the version of congestion pricing that is poised to go into effect, in which requested group rides have a fee of just 75 cents, even if the passenger ends up riding solo. The alliance claims that it’s contributing enough taxes to the MTA, and takes issue with how disproportionately the taxes affect yellow and green taxi drivers compared to drivers from ride-hailing apps.
The fee would not affect private motorists.