desai bharavi

TURNING THE TIDE: The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, founded in 1998, now has over 21,000 members and has successfully won regulatory relief for a workforce hammered by an exponential increase in cars for hire with the introduction of web-based services like Uber and Lyft. Still on the union's to do list, a city program to help members who fell prey to predatory lending to buy their city-issued cab medallion.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s decision to maintain the cap on for-hire-vehicles such as Uber and Lyft for an additional year was applauded by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 21,000 professional drivers.

The TLC also voted at its Aug. 7 meeting to require that all app [Uber/Lyft] companies cut the average amount of time they are on the road without a fare in Manhattan, 96th Street and below, from the current 41 percent to 31 percent over the next 12 months.


Exacerbated Congestion

The Daily News reported the TLC’s decision came two days after Uber and Lyft released an analysis that conceded their companies were responsible for “a substantial increase in traffic congestion in six other major cities across the country.”

Bill Heinzen, the TLC’s acting Executive Director, hailed the newly-adopted regulations as a national model for other municipalities facing the challenge of the glut of ride-share vehicles.

“Although New York City is the first to act, our experience is not unique,” he said. “Every major city in the country has experienced the disruption caused by app-based vehicles.”

According to the TLC website, “greenhouse gas emissions from the taxis and for-hire vehicles increased by 62 percent from 2013 to 2018, primarily from growth in the number of for-hire vehicles.”

Led to Depressed Wages

The changes also stabilize the number of for-hire vehicles working in the city’s most-desirable territory. The proliferation of for-hire vehicles had driven down take-home pay for the workforce.

Historically, the city maintained tight regulatory control over the industry by issuing medallions that theoretically granted owners the exclusive right to pick up fares on city streets.

With the advent of Uber and Lyft, the number of cars for hire went from 12,000-14,000 to 100,000 by last year. According to the Taxi Workers Alliance, there are currently 120,000 for-hire vehicles, with 86,000 of them affiliated with Uber, Lyft, Via or Juno.

The squeeze affected thousands of drivers who had taken out high-interest loans to buy medallions, which quickly lost their value as the city adopted a free-market approach.

Suicides Prompted Probe

After several driver suicides, including one at the gates of City Hall, the New York Times published an expose that uncovered the role of city officials in helping to stoke a medallion market relying on usurious loans that snared thousands.

“Now that the cap has been extended, we can focus on our fight for economic justice for drivers in every sector—Uber, Lyft, black car, green cab, and yellow taxi drivers,” said Bhairavi Desai, NYTWA Executive Director, in a statement after the TLC meeting. “Even though Uber, Lyft drivers and yellow cab owner-drivers are at different stages of their struggle for life out of poverty, stopping the over-saturation of cars is the starting point for all drivers to recover in this race to the bottom.”

She continued, “The more cars there are, the fewer fares every App driver gets—and the less reason App companies have to stop Deactivations or to guarantee job security to their drivers.”

“Meanwhile, yellow, green, livery and black car drivers are drowned out by the traffic. For yellow and green cabs to be hailed, they have to be seen,” Ms. Desai said. “No driver wins under the Uber/Lyft business model of flooding our streets with an infinite number of idling cars.”

Goes Back to Bloomberg

Despite multiple protests by the TWA, the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations brought in $855 million in revenue by auctioning off additional medallions and collecting taxes on the private transfers of them, according to The Times.

Behind the scenes “a handful of taxi-industry leaders artificially inflated medallion prices and made hundreds of millions of dollars by channeling immigrant buyers into reckless loans,” the Times reported.

Medallion prices spiked to $1 million in 2014, up from $200,000 in 2002, as local credit unions “adopted tactics similar to those in the housing crash, issuing loans with exploitative terms to low-income drivers who could not afford them,” the paper found.

Under a proposal backed by some City Council members, the city would purchase at a steep discount hundreds of millions of dollars in taxi-medallion mortgages and refinance them at an affordable rate for victimized cab owners.

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