Congestion pricing could mark the beginning of the end of New York’s famous yellow taxis – Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Congestion pricing could mark the beginning of the end of New York’s famous yellow taxis – Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

Yellow taxi cabs and New York City — what could be more iconic?

Successfully hailing a cab has always been a rite of passage for New Yorkers. It has bewildered out-of-towners but was traditionally handled with little effort by seasoned residents of the Big Apple: spot an on-duty cab, raise a hand, hop inside, enjoy a potentially strange, yet authentic, experience.

The old-school taxi business has been under assault in New York for some time, however, as Uber and Lyft have spent half a decade rapidly expanding their operations. Ride-hailing has flooded Manhattan with cars and driven down the value of the city’s allocated taxi medallions: There are 13,500 cabs in New York City — but there is something like 80,000 vehicles aligned with ride-hailing services, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Taxis now have a new challenge, and it could be an existential one: congestion charges in New York, which are set to be the first in a US city. The congestion-pricing scheme is now part of a New York state budget, with the fees to kick in by 2021. People driving into the congestion zone — Manhattan island below 60th St. — will be hit with a $12 to $14 fee (it will likely be assessed using the E-Z Pass system, which already covers many bridges, tunnels, and toll roads in the region). Taxis will be billed $2.50 per ride, while ride-hailing services will be billed $2.75.

But Uber and Lyft, for example, will be able to carve out a discount for a “pooled” ride, knocking the fee down to $0.75. Taxis won’t be able to do this — and it could be impossible to monitor whether ride-hailed pools actually wind up transporting multiple passengers.

The whole thing is intended to generate $15 billion over five years for capital improvements to the city’s mass-transit system (in one of those “only in New York” twists, the state government in Albany oversees mass transit in New York City). That’s much-needed funding, and one hopes it will be wisely spent. But the most recent expansion of the city’s subway, the Second Ave. line, took decades and cost a staggering $3.8 billion, so don’t get your hopes up.

Congestion pricing, of course, should ease Manhattan gridlock, but it will do this at the expense of turning over the city’s most lucrative sections to Uber and Lyft while continuing the destruction of the taxi business. It’s a hard political bargain, which was forged by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

As far as I can tell, the plan combines accepted economic theory about congestion caused by personal cars — it’s an unpriced “externality” — with a cunning effort to get well-capitalized Silicon Valley companies to pay for upgrading mass transit.

Taxi drivers are caught in the viselike middle. They’ve persuasively argued that because their numbers have long been capped, they aren’t part of the congestion problem. This is accurate — in fact, it’s hard to see why taxis aren’t exempt from the charge. They’re sort of the longstanding third leg of a New York City transit stool, with buses and subways being the other two.

Continue reading the original piece here: https://www.businessinsider.com/congestion-pricing-end-of-new-yorks-famous-yellow-taxis-2019-4?r=US&IR=T

Matthew De Bord is a Business Insider senior correspondent who covers transportation (and chess, guitars, home-audio equipment, cocktails, and sometimes classic rock). His focus is the global auto industry, including Tesla, a company he has chronicled since 2007.

  • New York City taxi drivers are caught in the viselike middle.

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