That sound you’re about to hear is the braying and whinnying of some very pissed-off cab drivers – the Hansom kind and the regular kind.
According to a well-placed source with first-hand knowledge of City Council dealings, the mayor’s office briefed Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and select members council members earlier today on the horse-carriage bill he is prepared to champion. The bill, expected to be introduced as early as the week of December 8, will ban the industry, making good on a campaign promise. A vote is not expected until early 2015.
According to the source, the mayor plans to offer displaced carriage drivers free green taxi medallions on the condition that they purchase handicapped-accessible cabs. These medallions, which are valued at only about $5,000-7000, are not to be confused with the much more valuable yellow-cab medallions, which currently cost about $850,000 each.
The value of both green and yellow medallions has been under steady pressure, as the popularity of services like Uber and Lyft explodes. The New York Times reported last week that the value of yellow cab medallions is in free-fall nationwide, with prices in New York having slipped as much as 17% since hitting a million bucks in Spring, 2013.
The mayor’s penchant for tardiness remains intact. Back when he was running for mayor, Mr. de Blasio promised to ban the horse-carriage trade “on day one” as mayor. This is more like day 330, but the news will nonetheless certainly restoke the passions on both sides of an issue that has stirred considerable debate. The “day one” strategy hit major roadblocks as the public, led by an unusually aggressive Daily News campaign that included a 40,000-signature petition, pushed back against the banning of a beloved tourist attraction that employs about 300 drivers — drivers who just happen to belong to the Teamsters Union. The mayor’s plan for a ban was even opposed by the usually supportive Working Families Party
In September, the Observer reported that legislation was close at hand on the matter, with the mayor telling the paper, ‘We’re about to see legislation introduced.’ Advocates of a ban, led by NYCLASS, which considers the industry “unsafe, abusive and inhumane,” will surely greet this all-out ban as better late than never. But it’s unclear whether drivers will see a consolation prize worth about $7,000 as acceptable compensation for losing their livelihoods. According to the source, the city council members, who were hand-selected by the mayor’s staff for being among those likely to co-sponsor the bill, were told that the drivers would also benefit from getting the green medallions earlier than they would had they applied through normal channels. “It isn’t just the money, but access to the front of the line for the medallions. So in that regard, it’s a lot more valuable than the cost of the medallion.”
It’s unclear how the current taxi fleet, already under pressure from app-based competitors that they consider essentially rogue taxi companies, will feel about carriage drivers being jumped to the front of the green taxi medallion line.
Mac Roberts, the general manager of East/West Management, a New York City company that operates 120 yellow taxi cab medallions, called upon the Taxi & Limousine Commission, as well as New York State, to better regulate Uber and others, telling the Observer in a memorable anti-Uber rant:
“Every other transportation service in this city is under strict TLC regulation, If TLC has a concern about a certain fleet or a certain base, they can send an agent out to that company to make sure that everything is run the way it’s supposed to. Uber seems to have no regard for the power of the Commission. There is simply no oversight possible. There are news reports every week about how Uber doesn’t carry enough insurance, about how Uber hires dangerous felons as drivers, about how Uber encourages its drivers to operate illegally at airports all over the country. Yet the public is not being protected because Uber has decided that the rules don’t apply to them, that they can operate above the law.”
Mr. Roberts mentioned further details that will impact how receptive the horse carriage drivers can be expected to be about losing their livelihoods in exchange for a green medallion.
He noted that with traditional cab fleets, every transaction is tracked by GPS and that the T-PEP systems—the tv screens required in every car—track and record every ride, enabling the city to charge the fleets sales tax and Metropolitan Transportation Authority taxes to the penny. The MTA taxes alone total more than $87 million, according to Mr. Roberts, and it’s hard to see the perennially cash-starved transit agency surrendering any of that revenue without a fight.
Speaking specifically about yellow cabs, but making a point that applies to any cabs—green or yellow—that are regulated by the TLC, Mr. Roberts concluded, “[We] also pay $1,000 per medallion per year for the joy of being able to use city roads. The most recent taxi auction saw the city raising $226,739,011.98 for coffers by auctioning off 200 mini-fleet wheelchair accessible medallions. We pay taxes – and so should every cab company.”
If Mr. de Blasio gets his way and fulfills this campaign promise, those who oppose the horse carriages on principle (or for a variety of other reasons), will surely rejoice. But the drivers themselves, offered a medallion that seems to be decreasing in value and is under fire from a disruptive technology, might just litter the streets with something more onerous than horse poop.