NYC Council advances bills protecting taxi, ride-hailing drivers

NYC Council advances bills protecting taxi, ride-hailing drivers

The New York City Council passed a batch of bills aimed at protecting taxi drivers and drivers for app-based ride services such as Uber and Lyft from mounting financial and emotional pressures, Bloomberg writes.

The six bills, approved Nov. 14 by the overwhelmingly Democratic-controlled council, are meant to supplement earlier actions signed in August by Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to set a minimum driver pay standard and a one-year cap on the number of for-hire vehicles on the city’s streets from Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc., and other e-hailing services. DeBlasio is expected to sign the new batch of bills.

The latest legislative actions come a month after the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union for 50,000 taxi and e-hailing service drivers, announced the seventh suicide in the last year by a driver faced with insurmountable debt. It was the first suicide by a driver for an app-based ride service.

The alliance, late in the same day as the council’s action, announced an eighth driver suicide. “While the city builds on the For-Hire-Vehicle cap and moves on a package of bills, including one that passed today on a Council task force to study medallion debt, change can’t come fast enough when every day is a struggle for drivers,” NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said in a statement calling for direct financial relief to debt-burdened drivers.

Both the alliance and the separate Independent Drivers Guild—which represents 70,000 Uber and Lyft drivers—have pushed for the supplemental bills to address debt and mental health challenges faced by both taxi and app-based drivers. The IDG is affiliated with the Machinists Union.
Two of the bills respond to driver allegations that they’re getting shorted on pay. One would require high-volume for-hire services to credit drivers for the full amount for a trip regardless of whether a digital payment transaction fails (Intro. No. 1062). The other would require them to affirm to the city that they won’t make automatic pay deductions for renting, leasing, or buying a vehicle unless a driver opts into the arrangement (Intro. No. 1096).

A third bill would take aim at the precipitous drop in the market price for city taxi medallions, operating licenses auctioned by the city that have declined in value from a high of $1.3 million to less than $250,000 since the arrival of the app-based services. Bankruptcies and foreclosures by driver-owners have risen with the market collapse.

The bill (Intro. No. 304) also would establish a task force to study medallion prices and make legislative and policy recommendations to the city within six months. Two other bills would address the financial and mental health strains on drivers. One would launch a city Taxi and Limousine Commission financial education and outreach project for taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers (Intro. No. 1068). The other would have the commission set up driver assistance centers to offer financial counseling, mental health counseling, and referrals to nonprofit organizations for more help (Intro. No. 1081).

The sixth bill would set up an Office of Inclusion at the commission to address “diversity, inclusion and cultural sensitivity in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industries, and for raising awareness about issues surrounding service refusal” (Intro. No. 1079). The e-hailing companies maintain that they serve passengers from minority groups and neighborhoods that face service refusals from yellow cabs.

Discrimination also hurts drivers, said Moira Muntz, an IDG spokeswoman. “Like generations of taxi riders, New York’s for-hire vehicle drivers face discrimination daily and are even fired from their jobs due to complaints or low ratings based on rider bias,” she told Bloomberg Law. “There is also rampant exploitation in this industry, with predatory leasing companies taking advantage of immigrant drivers.”

Both Uber and Lyft have said they back efforts to ensure a living wage for drivers, while criticizing city transportation proposals to limit their business as shortsighted.

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