De Blasio administration looks to take air out of Uber’s tires

De Blasio administration looks to take air out of Uber’s tires

The de Blasio administration urged the City Council on Monday to put the brakes on the expansion of the e-hail vehicle industry.

Meera Joshi, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, made the request of the local legislature’s Committee on For-Hire Vehicles during a hearing at City Hall. The head of the agency noted that the number of for-hire vehicles on city streets has doubled from 90,000 to 180,000 since 2011, and the number of certified drivers has swollen from 50,000 to 130,000—with “the overwhelming majority” of the growth owing to apps like Uber and Lyft.

Joshi noted that 2,000 new for-hire cars and 3,000 new drivers pour onto the streets each month, despite crippling congestion, because current law obligates the TLC to approve all applications that meet the requirements. “Only this City Council and this committee have the jurisdiction and the authority to make this change,” she said, predicting a backfire from the powerful tech sector like the one de Blasio and his team faced when they attempted to cap the number of new e-hail cars in 2015. “We know firsthand the challenges that lie before you. Those challenges all require you to address the enormous and unchecked growth in the number of drivers and vehicles in the for-hire sector.”

The committee had convened to consider a number of pieces of legislation, including a bill by Bronx Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr.—the committee chair—that would impose an annual $2,000 fee on app-linked autos and force them to affiliate with a single company and a single base. This would almost certainly deflate the tires of the Uber and Lyft business model.

Joshi voiced support for creating a new regulatory category for app-based services like Uber and Lyft, which currently fall into the lightly-regulated category of black cars. But she opposed another part of the bill that would require drivers to renew their licenses each year to the tune of $2,000—and not only because it would “place another financial burden on their shoulders,” she said. Renewing licenses every year as opposed to every two or three would create an “administrative burden.”

She also took aim at the bill’s requirement that drivers could work only for one base and app, noting that “50% of FHV drivers receive trips from more than one base.” Drivers struggling to make a living in an overcrowded market need that flexibility.

“We oppose these restrictions,” Joshi said. “We ask you to consider the negative impacts.”

The TLC chair did, however, endorse the concept behind a bill introduced by Upper Manhattan Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez that would cap the number of cars affiliated with each base. She also backed the “spirit and mission” of a proposal by Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander that would establish a pay floor for drivers working, as Uber and Lyft cabbies do, as independent contractors. But she asserted her agency had already begun developing a “regulatory framework” for such a reform.

She insisted the TLC would, however, need to further review both pieces of legislation.

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