New York City’s ailing taxicab industry may get a boost if a proposed bill gets a green light from the City Council.
The legislation would require the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to establish a “universal e-hail app” to let riders order from a single app any for-hire vehicle — including taxis and cars that normally drive for Uber or Lyft.
Introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), the bill is like one he pitched in 2014, before Uber raked in a majority of the city’s ride hails.
But with e-hail companies like Uber and Lyft getting three times the rides as yellow and green taxis before the pandemic — and more than eight times the rides as of September — Kallos said it’s high time to level the playing field.
A small fraction of yellow taxi trips are completed via apps, and Kallos said technology has matured enough in the last six years to make a universal e-hail app feasible.
“When I raise my hand on the street, I don’t care what yellow cab company stops for me. I just want a cab,” said Kallos. “People should be able to raise their hand digitally and get a response from anyone… And every driver could compete regardless of what company they drive for. It gives drives a way to cut out the middle man of Uber and Lyft and go directly to the consumer.”
The proposed legislation would establish a city-run API, or an open software language, to let other vendors build apps that hail taxis and other for-hire vehicles. The tech would also allow yellow and green taxis to be hailed through Uber’s app, Kallos said.
Cabbies who own taxi medallions that give them the exclusive right to street hails in the city’s busiest areas have for years called for relief.
Yellow taxi medallions sold for more than $1 million in 2012, but their value has fallen to less than $250,000 since Uber and Lyft began to dominate the city’s ride-hailing market. The plummeting price has left thousands of taxi drivers in dire financial straits.
Bhairavi Desai, co-founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, wants the city to help struggling cabbies refinance their medallions by guaranteeing up to $125,000 if a medallion owner defaults on loan payments or faces foreclosure.
Desai said the universal app “is clearly needed,” but isn’t a substitute for debt forgiveness.
“What the yellow cab and green cab sectors can do at this point is have exclusive street hail rights, and use the e-hail app as a supplement to that,” said Desai. “But I can’t emphasize enough that unless debt forgiveness is addressed and prioritized first and foremost, nothing else will matter.”