No new vehicles will be able to join ride-hailing networks like Uber and Lyft in the biggest city in the U.S. for a year following just-passed local legislation.
The New York City Council voted on Wednesday on a group of bills related to ride-hailing, one of which pauses the issuances of new licenses for vehicles that operate for-hire. That means that Uber and Lyft and other companies won’t be able to expand with new cars in the city, because—unlike in other cities where Uber and their ilk operate—those vehicles must be licensed by New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC).
The upshot? Following the new legislation, the TLC will not issue new for-hire vehicle licenses for 12 months, and will study the effects of that pause on the industry.
It’s a remarkable move for a city in which tens of thousands of vehicles, summonable by app, already ply the streets, competing with traditional cabs and giving New Yorkers an option besides subways and buses. Predictably, debate surrounding the suspension is lively.
Opponents to the legislation say that services like Uber and Lyft play an important role in helping people—particularly people of color—get where they need to go. Meanwhile, supporters of the legislation say that it’s geared toward easing congestion and improving life and pay for the for-hire drivers already on the road.
In an era that’s seen a huge rise of companies that let passengers travel via app, the new legislation is an experiment worth following closely. This is what its opponents, and proponents, say about the move.
Unsurprisingly, Lyft and Uber are staunchly against the New York City Council’s bills, which Mayor Bill de Blasio will sign into law later this month.
“These sweeping cuts to transportation will bring New Yorkers back to an era of struggling to get a ride, particularly for communities of color and in the outer boroughs,” Lyft said in a statement. Lyft also said that they support the larger goals of the legislation, which include stemming congestion and making sure drivers earn enough money to make ends meet.
Uber feels similarly, claiming the move could imperil one of the options that New Yorkers use to get around. “The City’s 12-month pause on new vehicle licenses will threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion,” the company said in a statement.
DeRay Mckesson, author of the book On the Other Side of Freedom and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, expressed a concern akin to one of the points Lyft made. “There are countless examples of yellow taxis refusing to pick up people of color,” he says. “The ride-sharing apps as a whole have changed the landscape of how riders experience—or don’t experience—discrimination.”
The reasons why
The bill in the spotlight is called 144-b. Robert Holden, a city council member, was one of the sponsors of that legislation, which calls for the one-year pause. He pointed out that the wait time for a app-hailed vehicle is very short, but that speediness comes at a cost. “They’re clogging New York City roads—and the industry has remained unchecked for far too long,” Holden says. “You have to have some kind of cap.” He says he supports the bill because the cap is not permanent, and gives the TLC time to study the situation. “It’s just out of control,” he adds. One study did indeed find that ride-hailing services exacerbate congestion.
The bill does contain some nuance: For example, it allows for new licenses for vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible. And there’s also a stipulation that ensures that if a region of the city finds itself with not enough vehicles, the TLC can give out more licenses to help in that case.
Holden also points out that the drivers behind the wheel of traditional taxis are hurting. “The yellow cabs and the green cabs are suffering,” he says. “Many of the drivers of the yellow cabs are not making anything, and six have committed suicide.” One of the bills—you can read about them all in more detail here—is focused on boosting the minimum wage of drivers who work for the larger for-hire companies.
The bills also have a powerful proponent—New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio. He wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock. The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action – and now we have it.”