Taxi drivers

Struggling taxi drivers see congestion pricing as a back-breaking fee

Proposed city driver fees that are expected to generate billions of dollars for public transit upgrades also threaten to significantly damage the livelihoods of taxi drivers and the long-suffering yellow cab industry.

The proposed Central Business District tolling program — aka congestion pricing — could add up to $19 in new fees on every metered taxi ride south of 60th Street in Manhattan, in one of seven scenarios possible for the system.

An environmental assessment published on August 10 predicted that the tolls would reduce demand for taxis by up to 17% in the congestion zone, which could lead to the unemployment of some taxi drivers and “rental vehicles”.

“Whenever they have a problem, they [the MTA] come to us,” said Allen Kaplan, owner of Team Systems Taxi in Long Island City, noting other transit support surcharges that have been in place for years. “We helped and we sacrificed, but that’s another robbery.

“It’s a gun to our temples.”

Potential fees would be in addition to the existing fee of $2.50 per trip congestion surcharge added in 2019 to all yellow cab rides south of 96th Street in Manhattan, while $2.75 is added to green cab and rental vehicle rides. These charges have generated more than $1 billion in three years, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Plus 50 cents each way MTA supplement on all yellow and green cabs has, since 2009, generated about $750 million for the transit agency from taxi rides, according to the TLC.

“Taxi drivers are all hard working people, but it’s getting harder and harder for them,” said Kaplan, who has been in the taxi business for more than half a century. “We’re this old boxer who gets in the ring and keeps getting punched, punched, punched, punched and punched.”

Pounded by the pandemic

The congestion pricing scenarios come as the beleaguered yellow cab industry slowly recovers from the pandemic, as travel demand has plummetedmany vehicles were retired from service and medallion owners continued to struggle with debt.

TLC numbers show that there were an average of 5,490 yellow taxis on the road daily in June – not even half of the city’s 13,587 medallion vehicles – each making about 20 trips a day.

At the same time, there were an average of 49,341 high-volume rental vehicles — including Uber and Lyft — each making about 12 rides a day.

Manhattan-based driver Norman Buenaventura says congestion pricing will kill the taxi industry, August 18, 2022.

The potential impacts on the struggling industry from street hail are spelled out in hundreds of pages of documents made public this month as part of the requirement Environmental assessment for the long-delayed program.

The report outlines seven different toll options for motorists traveling to Manhattan south of 60th Street, with peak-hour tolls ranging from $9 to $23 and night tolls from $5 to $12. The first of August sixth public hearings on the proposed toll program is scheduled for Thursday, August 25.

“We encourage drivers and their representatives to share their views with the public and project sponsors by participating in public hearings or submitting comments for the record,” MTA spokesman Aaron Donovan said.

Mario Galindo, who has been a cab driver since 1994, said he expects Midtown Manhattan to remain his go-to fare spot even if congestion pricing passes, but he fears new fees could reduce its clientele.

“There are rides to the airport and attractions around town,” Galindo, 64, told THE CITY, while pausing in his taxi parked on West 28th Street and Tenth Avenue in Manhattan. “I need to be in Midtown to make the most money.”

Under one of seven tolling options to be reviewed by the state’s Traffic Mobility Review Board — a six-member committee responsible for recommending toll rates and exemptions — taxi passengers could face $19 fee on all rush hour rides in the most congested parts of Manhattan.

“Any time you take money from people, it’s going to be a bad thing,” said 51-year-old taxi driver Adam Sidib as he stood in a Harlem cab garage. “We are just taxi drivers, there is nothing we can do about it.”

Another option could hit taxis and rental vehicles (FHV) with a $23 charge once a day, while the cheapest scenario would add a $9 charge at peak times no more than once a day. day.

AG scenarios are proposed as options in the environmental impact report.

“We are delighted that the process has reached an important milestone in outlining options and inviting public comment,” TLC Commissioner David Do said in a statement to THE CITY. “We look forward to an important discussion on fairness for taxis and rental vehicles as the public review period progresses and the Traffic Mobility Review Board gets to work recommending a toll plan. final.”

Preparing for job losses

The EA report acknowledges that “scenarios that charge each trip by taxi and FHV would result in an increase in the overall prices paid by customers” and adds that some options could reduce the employment of taxi and FHV drivers.

“A disproportionately large and negative potential effect would occur for taxi and [FHV] drivers in New York City, who largely identify as minority populations, in toll scenarios that toll their vehicles more than once per day,” reads a summary of the report.

According to the report, TLC data shows that 96% of yellow and green cab drivers were born outside the United States, compared to 91% of rental vehicle drivers.

Advocates for taxi drivers and rental vehicles have called for them to be completely exempt from congestion pricing charges. But State Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Queens), who oversees a legislative committee under MTA oversight, said “there should be no exemptions.”

FHV trips could, under one of the seven proposals, be subject to a fee of $23 per trip up to three times a day.

“The MTA should leave the status quo in place for drivers and reassess in a few years,” said Brendan Sexton, president of the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents more than 80,000 for-hire drivers in the city. “They can’t gamble with the livelihood of tens of thousands of New Yorkers.”

Taxi drivers fear that the more expensive trips caused by the additional fees will lead to less hail.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

To mitigate the potential economic fallout from any toll structure that would charge taxi and rental vehicle drivers more than once per day, the report states that when a passenger is present, the passenger pays the toll.

The EA also discussed the possibility of connecting “job insecure drivers” to a “direct licensing, training and job placement path with MTA or its affiliated vendors at no cost to drivers.” drivers”.

Norman Buenaventura, who has been driving a taxi for a decade, said there was “no chance” he was seeking employment with the transit agency.

“I could have applied for this a while ago,” the 49-year-old taxi driver told THE CITY, during a break at Chelsea. “We need our freedom, but I won’t have that freedom if I take a job with the MTA – I have two children.”

At his base in Long Island City, Kaplan said one of the greatest rewards of his more than 50 years in the taxi business has been when longtime drivers put their kids through college and “live the American Dream” after getting their start as taxi drivers.

“We all want to help the city, we all want to help the MTA,” he said. “But when does it get ridiculous?”