As a bill to allow livery cabs to pick up street hails in the outer boroughs languishes on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk and hearings begin in a lawsuit against the city over disabled yellow cab access, taxi industry members slammed Mayor Michael Bloomberg today for fuzzy math they claim threatens their business.
Back in January, Mr. Bloomberg announced plans to issue 30,000 permits to livery drivers at a cost of $1500 each, compensating for the dismal yellow cab service outside of Manhattan – covered by a mere 4% of the fleet. To appease the 13,000 yellow cab drivers frightened of losing their livelihoods, Mr. Bloomberg intends to release a further 1500 new city-licensed medallions, which are notoriously difficult to obtain and can fetch upwards of $1 million a piece.
Those numbers don’t add up, the cabbies say.
“With all due respect to the Mayor, his livery street hail bill has become a failed budget gimmick that won’t work,” Robert Familant of the Taxicab Service Association, an association of credit unions providing loans to finance yellow cab medallions, said in a statement. “Who in their right mind would pay $1 million or more for a medallion when under the Mayor’s plan, they could lease a street hail permit for only $1500?”
Though the bill passed the state legislature – Mr. Bloomberg sent it to friendlier politicians there after it stalled in the City Council – in June, Mr. Cuomo has yet to sign it, citing differences of opinion that need to be resolved in the Senate. Lobbyists for the yellow cab industry, meanwhile, have been campaigning furiously against the bill, which they claim could cost drivers up to 25 percent of their income.
“In an attempt to get his flawed outer-borough plan passed, the Mayor is trying to bootstrap his budget on a house of cards that will not only imperil tens of thousands of jobs in the private sector but is hinging the city budget on phantom revenues,” Familant said.
“Medallion values will drop precipitously, jeopardizing the retirement of more than 5,000 mostly immigrant owner / drivers- all of whom took the administration at its word when they purchased medallions for the exclusive right to street hails.”
Micah Lasher, Mayor Bloomberg’s director of legislative affairs, told the Observer he thinks Mr. Familant and other opponents of the bill are missing the point.
“Perhaps Mr. Familant and other lobbyists for the large medallion lenders didn’t read the bill: street hail permits would not allow pickups in the areas where yellow taxis make more than 95% of their revenue,” Mr. Lasher said. “Instead, the bill would legalize service in the many neighborhoods across the City that the yellow taxi industry ignores. That’s why medallion prices have continued to skyrocket. Enormous profits for lenders and owners will not be threatened by our legislation.”
Matters are further complicated by city plans to replace all yellow cabs with the “Taxi of Tomorrow,” a modified Nissan NV200 that, at present, is not wheelchair accessible. Should an industry-backed bill to mandate cabs install wheelchair ramps become law, that could cost the city a further $15,000 per cab, adding up to a potential $200 million outlay over five years.
Mr. Cuomo has until the end of the year to sign the bill, but every reason to veto it: his father sits on the board of Medallion Financial, a taxi industry financing association so large that it is traded publicly under the ticket “TAXI.” Though the governor has expressed confidence that a compromise can be reached, a “taxi summit” with industry leaders, mayoral, and gubernatorial aides earlier this month failed to settle on a deal.
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