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Ibrahima Gory has been ferrying passengers by car through the five boroughs and beyond since 1994.
Just a few months ago, Gory, who started by driving a yellow cab but now works with Uber, received a roughly 9 percent raise from what he was making a year earlier when the Taxi and Limousine Commission OK'd rideshare wage increases.
And at the tail end of last year, the TLC also approved a 23-percent increase in metered fares, the first raise in about 10 years for those driving hail-ride cabs.
But Gory, 57, and his driver colleagues argue that a more recent move by the TLC threatens to undo those pay increases with what is it calling a street hail livery pilot program that could put as many as 2,500 non-hailable vehicles onto city streets, albeit mostly in the outer boroughs, even as the industry’s post-pandemic struggles continue.
“Drivers are suffering right now. They’re talking about congestion and they want to put more cars on the street,” he said Thursday outside the City Hall gates on Broadway where dozens of New York Taxi Workers Alliance members assembled to protest what the TLC is calling a pilot program, but one that could last as long as two years.
The commission said it would begin accepting applications for the program May 16.
But the New York Taxi Workers Alliance on Monday filed suit in New York State Supreme Court to annul the program, alleging that it is “in direct conflict with state law.” The TWA argues that the non-hail vehicles run counter to regulations governing street-hail livery cars, whose “essential characteristics” is that they are hailable.
The suit also contends that the TLC neglected to properly assess the state of the city’s taxi industry before announcing the pilot.
It also says that while the TLC had started to plan the pilot about a year ago, it did not give the public a “meaningful opportunity” to weigh in. “The purpose of pilot programs is to experiment with something truly novel, and assess how well it may work before committing to regulatory change, not to create an end-run around proper rulemaking, or in this case, state and city law,” the suit say in part.
The no-hail cars will be in addition to the 1,000 all-electric vehicles the TLC has been rolling out.
Gory, who drives six days a week, putting between 40 and 45 hours behind the wheel, said the TLC’s proposal exemplifies what he said is the commission’s indifference to drivers’ concerns. “It’s not easy to make a decent living right now,” he said. “Most of the drivers, like 90 percent of the drivers, are not happy with the TLC at all, and it’s time to let them know that they’re supposed to do something for the drivers.”
‘A straightforward plan’
The TLC, though, argues that the addition of no-hail cars, which will be dispatched through an app-based system and offer flat rather than metered rates, will address a shortfall of cabs in the outer boroughs and in Upper Manhattan. Another aspect of the program is for the vehicles, which must be either wheelchair accessible, hybrid or all-electric cars, to function as non-emergency medical transportation, no matter where that type of trip begins.
The TLC is also highlighting that since the vehicles will only pick up prearranged rides, the cars will not need to be equipped with top lights and meters and will not have to be painted a certain color, such as the Granny Smith apple-green color of the boro cabs introduced a decade ago, all of which will make them much cheaper to equip and operate.
Partitions and vehicle cameras will be optional. The commission will also be waiving certain permit fees to participate in the program.
“This is something we worked on for the better of one year,” the TLC’s assistant general counsel, Daniel Goddin, said at the outset of a presentation on the pilot at the commission’s May 2 meeting.
He further characterized the program as “a straightforward plan that we can effectuate pretty quickly.” It is as yet unclear how soon cars and drivers will be on the road.
But Bhairavi Desai, the director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents about 21,000 yellow cab, green car, black car, livery and app-dispatched drivers, said one of the commission’s own recent reports found that there were a sufficient number of for-hire vehicles to handle taxi traffic requests in the outer boroughs.
The Driver’s Alliance noted that taxi and for-hire vehicle trips were still down 23 percent in February compared to February 2020, with trips per driver down 12 percent even as there are 12 percent fewer drivers.
Desai called the pilot “a total sham” that would negate the recent raise.
“Every working driver is going to have less trips that they will be able to complete at a time when no driver can afford to lose any trips,” she said at the May 11 protest. “At the same time, the drivers who invest into applying for these new vehicles are not even going to earn enough money to keep up with the financing of the new cars. This is a trap for any driver that applies for these new vehicles.”
She also chastised the commission for not putting the initiative through a more public process that would have included a hearing, comment period and a rules posting. “This happened with like three-days notice, on a late Friday evening,” she said prior to the protest.
“By calling it a pilot program, they are able to circumvent the rulemaking process, which would have required the public notice and additional time for comments,” she said. “We were never even heard, we were never even given a courtesy phone call before they announced this. And this is going to have a profound impact on our members' livelihoods.”
Speaking at the protest, Desai said the pilot program will serve the interest of insurance companies, dealers and the corporations at the expense of drivers. She called on city officials to pull up the reins on the program “before it sets drivers onto another path of poverty and debt and desperation.”
The office of Queens Councilwoman Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, the chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, did not respond to an emailed inquiry regarding Desai’s concerns.
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