Proposed plans by the City to expand medallion cab service are being challenged by the livery cab industry.
When Mayor Bloomberg raised the issue of making sure that everyone in our city could hail a cab safely and legally, the impetus was to codify into law what had been the practice for decades – providing livery cars the opportunity to hail in the outer boroughs and in neighborhoods where the Manhattan Times and the Bronx Free Press are read. This policy proposal change was clear – to end the two standards in providing taxi services for New Yorkers, one for those who live in certain parts of Manhattan and another for the rest of the city.
After several months of discussions and strong opposition by the yellow cab industry to any of the changes being proposed that would ensure one standard for the industry, all of the proposals on the table start with one premise – to protect the yellow cab industry first and then figure out how to legalize "street hailing" in 80 percent of the city that is not serviced by the yellow cabs. Unfortunately, it is very possible that at the end of this process, the double standard in the law will be allowed to continue – and to thrive. Moreover, it is possible that the livery industry, made up of largely minority and immigrant entrepreneurs who had stepped in to provide services that the yellow cab industry had refused to provide, will be destroyed.
If you live in certain parts of Manhattan (south of 96th Street), you have the right, at any time of day or night, to hail a cab to take you to your destination. Actually, if a yellow taxi declines to take you to your destination, the driver is subject to fines, and even to revocation of their license.
If you live in the neighborhoods served by the Bronx Free Press and Manhattan Times, the law prohibits a livery driver from stopping to pick you up and take you wherever you need to go. In fact, if a livery car picks you up in the streets they are subject to fines, and potential suspension of their license.
The proposals for reform that we should be discussing would allow this city the first opportunity in five decades to end a discriminatory practice, and ensure the survival of a livery industry that has become an economic engine for many neighborhoods in our city.
We strongly believe that it can do so while also maintaining its commitment to the yellow cab industry.
The justification for not providing the same basic services to New Yorkers who live outside of certain parts of Manhattan is that the discrimination is necessary in order to protect the "financial interests" of the yellow cab industry investors. This justification is wrong and does not stand scrutiny.
According to the latest economic reports on the yellow cab industry, there are 13,237 yellow medallion taxicabs in New York City, comprising a $1.8 billion industry serving about 240 million passengers a year. In fact, medallion values have shown a very strong upward-growth trend over the past half-century, fueled by growing demand for taxicab services and other factors such as longer loan terms and the introduction of leasing.
Any New Yorker wishing to own a yellow cab medallion would have paid $25,000 in 1963, $50,000 in 1977, $100,000 in 1986, $200,000 in 1994, and $300,000 in 2004. In fact, medallion prices increased to $379,000 for corporate and $336,000 for individual licenses in 2005. Today the value of a yellow medallion is estimated be as much as a million dollars. Not bad, for an industry that continues to insist that its financial interests must be protected, even if it means having the City of New York enforce the de facto discrimination of most of its citizens.
And even, more significantly, since when is this city in the business of protecting the private "financial interests" of any industry?
Why isn't the yellow cab industry required to compete with everyone else, the same way that supermarkets and bodegas in our neighborhoods have been forced to compete with the mega market stores when they first arrived, without any protection for the "financial interests" of their owners?
Isn't the investment in their businesses as valuable and significant to this city as the investment made by a medallion owner?
And, while the city continues to protect the "financial interests" of the yellow cab industry, who is going to protect the financial interests of tens of thousands of New York City livery men and women drivers, the hundreds of base owners and the more than 8,000 phone operators and dispatchers who are now servicing the people of this city that the yellow cab industry refused to address for nearly half a century – a wholesale disregard supported by the city?
Discrimination is wrong, whatever its justification.
Discrimination should certainly never be tolerated in order to maintain industry's financial interest.
That this policy has been allowed to exist for 40 years without an outcry from the good people of this city is wrong, and the time has come to change it.
It is now up to the mayor, the city and the state legislature to make certain that it does.