The City Council Transportation Committee held a hearing Tuesday to discuss legislation that would limit the growth of car services including Uber for one year. During that year, an environmental impact study would examine how an increase in for-hire vehicles affects traffic and air quality.
The legislation, sponsored by Councilmembers Ydanis Rodriguez and Stephen Levin, was heavily supported by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and the Taxi and Limosine Commission and vehemently opposed by Uber.
“The one common concern, grievance, condition which unifies all sectors of drivers is the oversaturation of vehicles on the street,” said Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
If passed, the legislation would limit Uber and other large vehicle bases to only 1 percent of growth in the next year.
“We project that over 10,000 such new drivers will join Uber in the next year. This reflects one of New York City’s best job growth opportunities at a time when our City unemployment is higher than the State’s and the nation’s,” said Josh Mohrer, the general manager of Uber in New York. He predicted that if the legislation passed, however, the company would only be able to add 200 new cars.
Mohrer said of the 2.7 million cars entering Manhattan, 1 percent, or 27,000, cars are Uber vehicles. In comparison, the Taxi and Limosine Commission estimated 13,437 taxi medallions in New York City in 2014.
Gurpreet Singh, 39, from Queens, has been a cab driver for 19 years. He stood outside City Hall with a group of about 10 drivers protesting Uber. Singh pointed out that taxi medallions are subject to regulations and taxi drivers must pass various tests before being allowed to operate a cab. He complained that Uber drivers with less knowledge of the city who rely on GPS systems to navigate are causing traffic.
“If they have a law for the yellow cabs, why don’t they have a law for the other car services?” said Singh. “They are illegal.”
(As reported by the New York Times early this year, the test required for taxi drivers has changed to eliminate some of the geography questions, perhaps in an effort to lure potential drivers away from Uber and Lyft and back to the traditional taxi system.)
Across from Singh and the taxi drivers at the gates to City Hall, about 50 Uber supporters sported Uber hats and shirts, handed out along with Potbelly sandwiches. Most were drivers and Uber employees, along with a few customers who had taken free Uber rides to City Hall for the rally.
Moises Aberego, 61, from Queens, has been driving for Uber for one month.
“This is my bread and butter now,” said Aberego, “I believe in general everyone is scapegoating Uber.”
To Aberego, the conflict is a matter of his right to work.
“We provide a service, they provide the same service -- they don’t want to let us work. I think that’s unfair,” he said.
A joint press release from Councilmembers Levin and Rodriguez cited environmental and traffic concerns from the growth in for-hire vehicles, noting that the Business District in Manhattan has seen a 9 percent decline in traffic speed over the last year.
"Acknowledging the existing problems of congestion parking and negative environmental impacts like poor air quality, we must ensure our city moves forward with the best plan that mitigates these negative impacts,” said Councilmember Rodriguez.
But one Uber supporter at the rally defended the company.
“Uber offers Uber Pool; I don’t see taxis doing that,” said Alex Borodkin, 27, from Hell’s Kitchen, commenting that the company offers ways to reduced vehicles on the road through car pooling.
Uber faces significant challenges in other cities and abroad as well. In France Tuesday, Uber executives were charged with enabling illegal taxi services and illicit personal data storage, according to the Wall Street Journal.