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NYC will extend cap on Uber, for-hire vehicles

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Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the move as a way of easing congestion in Manhattan

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

It was nearly one year ago that New York’s City Council, with the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, voted to enact a cap on the number of for-hire vehicle licenses issued in the city.

Now, with that moratorium set to expire in August, the de Blasio administration is taking things a step further: The mayor announced today that the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will extend the cap, and propose a second one that will limit how long drivers can cruise through Manhattan in otherwise empty behicles.

“For too long, app companies have taken advantage of hardworking drivers, choking our streets with congestion and driving workers into poverty,” de Blasio said in a statement. “That era will come to an end in New York City.”

Last year’s ruling was intended to be temporary, as the city implemented a study of for-hire vehicles and their impact on New York’s traffic, emissions, and more. (It also implemented a minimum wage and fare structure for FHV drivers.) The findings of that analysis were released alongside today’s announcement, and the 35-page report—prepared jointly by the TLC and the Department of Transportation (DOT)—notes that “In Manhattan, FHVs now make up nearly 30% of all traffic, confirming that reductions in FHV-related traffic could meaningfully impact overall traffic conditions.”

In the year since the cap was enacted, New York’s state legislature also passed a landmark congestion pricing plan as part of the FY2020 budget; but since that will not be implemented for at least another year, the city views the FHV cap as essential to reducing congestion on traffic-clogged streets.

The measures announced by de Blasio today are twofold: One will maintain the cap that was enacted in August 2018, while the other will put a limit on how much time drivers can spend “cruising”—driving without passenger pick-ups—in Manhattan. According to the city’s report, FHV drivers spend approximately 40 percent of their time doing this; the cap aims to reduce that by 10 percent. It will be in effect during peak hours—so 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends.

“Having over 40 percent of FHVs in peak hours cruising empty on the City’s most congested streets is simply unsustainable,” DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement. “Along with other ambitious solutions like the Better Buses plan and congestion pricing, we look forward to working with TLC on implementing these new common-sense rules for FHVs that will help get our City moving again.”

But Uber and Lyft, two of the biggest ride-hailing companies to be impacted by the city’s ruling (the others are Juno and Via), expressed displeasure over the extension of the cap. Alix Anfang, a spokesperson for Uber, said that extending the cap will “create another medallion system—the same kind that bankrupted drivers and enriched lenders.” (A recent investigation by the New York Times detailed the how the current medallion system—and the indifference of city and state leaders—has exploited and financially ruined many taxi drivers.)

“Not only is the Mayor’s policy hurting app drivers by forcing them to pay exorbitant fees to rent a car, but he has proposed nothing to fix the current medallion system that only benefits lenders and taxi insiders,” Anfang added. Earlier this year, Uber sued to overturn the cap, but the case is still pending.

“The Mayor’s announcement today is misguided and will be damaging to riders and drivers, as further restrictions on rideshare will result in fewer rides and lower earnings,” Campbell Matthews, a spokesperson for Lyft, said in a statement. “The Mayor should respect the legislation passed by the City Council last year and allow all parties to review the report on the impact of the cap prior to any discussions of an extension or any new rules and fees.”