The de Blasio administration’s proposed slowdown in new for-hire vehicle licenses for a one-year study period could be the opening move in a major rewrite of the rules governing the city’s taxi and livery industry. The current system is an anachronism, and a big overhaul could harmonize the city’s growing array of medallion taxis, green cabs, and Uber-type services in a way that lessens the need for private car ownership without contributing to congestion in the city core. But what, exactly, would that system look like?
It’s a big task. Set aside, for a moment, the merits of a one-year cap on new for-hire cars. Let’s start with the basics and go from there.
First off, New Yorkers use car services in vastly different ways. “New York City is two worlds,” said Elliott Sclar, a city planning professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “There’s Manhattan below 96th Street, and then there’s the rest of the city.”
Outside the Manhattan core, car service options consist mainly of black cars and, more recently, green boro taxis. They tend to serve journeys that would be indirect and slow using transit. And congestion outside the city center is mainly due to private vehicles, not car services, so there’s not much reason to discourage new taxis and black cars in most of the city.
Meanwhile, sky-high demand for travel in the Manhattan core is like a black hole sucking in for-hire drivers from across the city. Most taxi customers in or near the Manhattan core have a decent transit alternative, but they hire a car for speedier service or a more luxurious ride. According to TLC, 94 percent of yellow taxi pick-ups are either in Manhattan or at the airports, and the fastest-growing for-hire companies, powered by e-hail apps like Uber, do 72 percent of their business in Manhattan south of 60th Street.
The result is a crush of taxis and black cars driving around the central business district.
The de Blasio administration says it needs to slow down the increase in for-hire licenses to study congestion, but given the large campaign contributions the mayor received from the yellow taxi industry, the surface explanation is hard to swallow. In the end, the one-year cap on new for-hire licenses might have more to do with navigating tricky political waters, where the administration faces hard-charging Uber on one side and medallion interests on the other, than with alleviating Midtown congestion.