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NYC enacts first-of-its-kind cap on Uber, for-hire vehicles

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The legislation will prevent the TLC from issuing new licenses for for-hire vehicles for one year

NYC First Major City To Attempt To Cap Number Of Ride-Hailing Services Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It’s official: The New York City Council voted today to place a moratorium on the number of for-hire vehicles on city streets, as part of a package of bills intended to address the unbridled growth of ride-hailing services in the city.

“We’re going to regulate Uber, and we’re going to make history in New York,” council member Ruben Diaz Sr., who was chair of the council’s for-hire vehicles (FHV) committee, said before the vote took place.

Though there was some dissent among council members, the package of five bills passed with an overwhelming majority. Those bills will, among other things, stop the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) from issuing new FHV licenses while the city studies their impact (though wheelchair-accessible vehicles are exempt from the cap); set a minimum wage for FHV drivers; and enact new regulations on high-volume apps like Uber and Lyft, requiring them to provide data on usage and charges, as well as impose a fine of $10,000 for those who do not comply.

“It’s not easy taking on Silicon Valley behemoths, but we kept on fighting for what we know is right and today the workers prevailed,” said Ryan Price, the executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents more than 65,000 FHV drivers in New York. “We are thankful to the New York City officials who listened to the stories of drivers who are struggling to support their families and stood by us in this fight.”

In the past few years, the number of for-hire vehicles on city streets has ballooned to 130,000, with many of those drivers using ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft to get fares. And while that has led to a huge shift in the way New Yorkers get around, it has also increased congestion in a huge way—according to recent analysis by Bruce Schaller, “Uber and Lyft trips have increased daily traffic on NYC streets by millions of miles a day, and that mileage without a paying customer in the car accounts for a disproportionate share of this added traffic,” per Streetsblog.

The rise of ride-hailing services has also impacted the mental well-being of drivers, who’ve contended with lost wages and higher operating costs as more FHVs have hit city streets. (Six taxi drivers have taken their own lives since the beginning of 2018, with the common thread being financial struggles caused by competition from FHVs.)

Earlier in the day, the FHV committee, which was convened in January, quickly approved the measures after opening remarks from Ruben Diaz, as well as council members Stephen Levin and Brad Lander. Levin, who sponsored the legislation that would limit FHVs, called the package of bills a “thoughtful and measured” response to the dramatic rise in licenses for app-based drivers.

Members of the FHV committee were also careful to note that the bills aren’t intended to put a heavier burden on New Yorkers in the outer boroughs, or those who’ve experienced discrimination from traditional taxi services. Francisco Moya stated that the council is “not intending to take away services,” and noted that the TLC can ignore the cap or issue new licenses if the cap is adversely affecting New Yorkers.

Uber and Lyft have been the most vocal opponents of the City Council proposal, arguing that a on cap FHVs will lead to a massive disruption in service for New Yorkers, in the form of reduced service and higher fares.

“The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion,” Alix Anfang, a spokesperson for Uber, said in a statement. “We take the Speaker at his word that the pause is not intended to reduce service for New Yorkers and we trust that he will hold the TLC accountable, ensuring that no New Yorker is left stranded.”

“These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs,” Lyft’s VP of public policy Joseph Okpaku said in a statement. “We will never stop working to ensure New Yorkers have access to reliable and affordable transportation in every borough.”

Those fears are not unfounded; the taxi industry has a long history of discrimination against people of color, and civil rights groups (including the NAACP) came out against the cap. To address that problem, the city will establish a new Office of Inclusion at the TLC, with the goal of “ensur[ing] that all passengers receive the service they expect, and to which they are legally entitled.”

“We will be watching the TLC closely to make sure they are focused on the needs of all New Yorkers in all boroughs,” council member Helen Rosenthal said during the hearing.

Rosenthal also addressed the other elephant in the room: the lack of solid, reliable subway and bus service from the MTA, which led many New Yorkers to flee to ride-hailing apps in the first place. “If we could count on the MTA, and they actually addressed the serious problem of transit deserts, we would not be in this situation,” Rosenthal noted during the hearing. (Alas, that’s a whole other issue that is largely out of the City Council’s hands—particularly when it comes to pushing through congestion pricing to address the transit crisis.)

The legislation now moves to Mayor Bill de Blasio for final approval. “The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action—and now we have it,” De Blasio said in a statement issued after the vote. “More than 100,000 workers and their families will see an immediate benefit from this legislation. And this action will stop the influx of cars contributing to the congestion grinding our streets to a halt.”