Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito today asserted that proposed legislation to limit the number of new app-hail cars on the road is based on concerns over traffic congestion, pollution and labor standards—not the plummeting value of the city’s once-coveted taxi medallions.
Speaking to radio host Brian Lehrer on WNYC, Ms. Mark-Viverito said she had not formally backed the bill, which would bar any new vehicles from participating in services like Uber (UBER) and Lyft until the city completes a study on their impact on traffic. Nonetheless, she said she sympathized with the underlying anxieties behind the proposal, and cited city Taxi and Limousine Commission surveys that found the services brought 2,000 additional cars into the city, and noted concerns about clogged streets and increased exhaust emissions.
Not of primary concern, she said, is the value of city-issued cab medallions—held by a handful of taxi kingpins—which are now valued at $750,000 off of a high of $1.3 million a year ago.
“To me the concern of the value of the taxi medallions is not what’s at issue here,” the speaker said. “There are concerns on all sides of this issue.”
Ms. Mark-Viverito noted the bill would not impact Uber and Lyft drivers already on the road, simply stop new cars from entering the system.
“The bill is to have a pause and then do a study on this,” she said.
She raised concerns that, beyond tying up city thoroughfares for other drivers, app-hail cars could cause bus route delays and spew pollution.
“I’m not sure our infrastructure—there’s limitations to anything,” she said. “We’re just talking about increasing our capacity in our constricted streets.”
She also worried over potential for mistreatment of Uber and Lyft drivers, who are currently not treated as employees of the companies that profit from their services.
“You have the issue of worker protections in this new type of industry that Uber provides,” she said, even as she acknowledged that old-fashioned cabbies are not always accommodating to customers—including the mayor of San Juan in Ms. Mark-Viverito’s native Puerto Rico, who had one taxi driver refuse to take her to a Bronx hotel the speaker had recommended and another driver complain the whole trip. “I’m not going to defend drivers, taxi drivers, who are doing what they are not supposed to be doing.”
Speaking to the Observer in May, however, Council Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez said one of his primary concerns was the deflating price of medallions, and held a summit with taxi industry leaders to discuss the cap in April.
Updated to clarify that Mr. Rodriguez has not received donations from medallion owners.