Cab drivers call it a “suicide surcharge,” the governor says it’s a vital part of paying to fix the MTA, and all the while passengers are taking a hit in their wallets.
The new fees for taxi rides in Midtown are getting mixed – and heated – reactions.
Penn Station is one of the few spots in the city where yellow cab driver Mohammed Rahim says he’s guaranteed to find passengers. Rahim is among hundreds of cab drivers who say people are hailing fewer rides since the congestion pricing surcharge was applied last month.
“Less people are riding. People are complaining, and business went down more than 50 percent,” Rahim said.
“Has that been hard on you?” asked CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge.
“Of course. It affects drivers’ life, livelihood,” Rahim said.
The Taxi Drivers Alliance says so far there’s been at least a 15-20 percent loss in revenue since the surcharge went into effect to help pay for the aging subway system and ease traffic.
The fee adds an extra $2.50 on top of base fares south of 96th Street. It’s $2.75 for Uber or other car services.
“It’s expensive for the passenger. They pay for the price,” one Uber driver told Duddridge.
The ultimate price falls on drivers, the Taxi Driver’s Alliance says. They call it the “suicide surcharge.”
The Alliance says eight drivers and medallion owners have taken their lives and many are on the verge of bankruptcy.
“My friend drove a taxi for 33 years, owner since 1989. What happened to him, I don’t want anybody to happen,” said medallion owner Nicolae Hent.
Despite outrage and protests amongst drivers, officials say the fee is needed to generate $400 million a year to fix the subway. Cuomo’s office says right now more than $1 million a day is going directly to the MTA. Riders hope that means the subway will run more smoothly, because they can no longer afford the increased taxi fare.
“It’s a big price difference,” said rider Nilajah Bryan.
“It’s really expensive for people who don’t have the means like that,” said rideshare rider Brittany Johnson.
Some taxi and rideshare customers Duddridge spoke to say that while they have been taking fewer cabs, they don’t believe the surcharge will reduce congestion as long as trucks and cars don’t have to pay the fee.
“Many, many years ago it was just not this crowded. I don’t think that’s the answer to it,” one woman told Duddridge.
Drivers believe the real answer is taxing the super rich. They say that would bring in more money than the congestion surcharge.
The New York State Assembly is seriously working on three big funding sources to include in the budget that would bring in more than $6 billion in revenue: Significantly more money than the surcharge on taxis and for-hire vehicles.
Taxi drivers have planned at least two more protests later this month, and will be in Albany protesting congestion pricing on March 20.
Michael Cohen was $22M in debt because of his taxi medallions
Michael Cohen owed $22 million in loans against the taxi medallions he owned — and allegedly lied in order to try to clear the massive debt, according to court documents unsealed Tuesday.
The extent of the financial woes racked up by President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer emerged in just-unsealed filings related to search warrants in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The documents show that federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the FBI were zeroing in on Cohen’s taxi businesses — including “misrepresentations” and omissions he made “in connection with a transaction intended to relieve Cohen” of the $22 million debt.
The investigation, which began in July 2017, found that Cohen lied about income from consulting work in 2017 in order to avoid paying back loans and failed to disclose “tens of thousands of dollars” he received in other monthly income.
“By making these misrepresentations and material omissions, Cohen avoided making monthly payments on his loans, and attempted to fraudulently induce the banks to relieve him of certain repayment obligations and personal guarantees that Cohen and his wife had signed,” the papers said.
It had been previously reported that Cohen was in the hole from borrowing cash from banks and credit unions against the medallions.
The once-rare taxi medallions — which at their peak were worth as much as $1.2 million apiece — tanked to just an average of $200,000 each after ride-share services like Uber and Lyft exploded in the city.
Cohen has pleaded guilty to tax fraud and campaign finance violations, as well as to lying to Congress.
He’ll begin serving a three-year sentence in May.
Lyft’s driver wage lawsuit in NYC continues
As Lyft gears up to list its stock on the NASDAQ, the transportation company is facing ongoing litigation regarding driver wages in New York City. Today, a judge denied Lyft’s motion for an injunction blocking the recent ruling that sets a minimum wage for drivers. Still, the judge said she’ll think it over and file a written ruling in the next 30 days. This comes shortly after a number of drivers protested Lyft’s lawsuit against the city of New York earlier this morning.
“We are pleased the judge denied Lyft’s motion to block the wage protection rules for now and we hope she will uphold the city’s rules in her written decision,” Independent Drivers Guild member and Lyft driver Tina Raveneau said in a statement. “Eighty thousand New Yorkers serve as professional drivers for apps like Lyft and we deserve the protection and the dignity of a livable minimum wage. It is like a punch in the gut to us, the drivers who helped build this company, that Lyft stood in court suing to block higher wages at the same time as they moved toward an IPO at a $23 billion valuation. We are finally making more than we have in years thanks to the new pay rules, but Lyft wants to bring it back to the way it was before, poverty wages.”
Lyft filed the lawsuit earlier this year, arguing the new rules give an advantage to Uber, will reduce driver earnings and exacerbate congestion. At the time, Lyft said its suit was “not directed at the law passed by New York City Council, but rather at the TLC’s complex formula for implementation.” Lyft is a proponent of a weekly pay standard but argues the TLC’s approach does not take into account things like drivers who use multiple apps and fluctuating demand.
“We support the New York City Council’s minimum earnings goal, but oppose the TLC’s specific rules because they actually hurt earning opportunities for drivers, and provide advantages to certain companies over others,” Lyft spokesperson Campbell Matthews said in a statement. “We appreciated the opportunity to make our case in court today, and look forward to the judge’s forthcoming ruling.”
The suit came after the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission in December approved new rules to offer a minimum hourly wage of $17.22 (after expenses) to drivers who work for ride-hailing companies like Uber, Lyft, Via and Juno. The two-year campaign for minimum wage was spearheaded by The Independent Drivers Guild, a labor organization that advocates for drivers. The rules require companies to pay drivers according to a formula based on mileage, time and utilization rate (average percentage of time drivers have passengers in their cars).
Lyft has recently said that it is committed to increasing the earnings of drivers and supports the NYC council’s minimum earnings goal. But it filed the lawsuit, Lyft said in a recent blog post, “to correct the flawed implementation of the law by NYC’s Taxi & Limousine Commission.”
These rules legally went into effect in February. Since then, Lyft says there has been a negative impact on driver earnings. That’s because, Lyft says, the cost for passengers increased 24 percent, which led to rides dropping 26 percent and driver earnings dropping 15 percent. Lyft had to then take “action to stabilize the market largely through the use of passenger discounts. We won’t do this forever, but knew it was important for both the driver community and Lyft while the lawsuit progressed.”
Gett Could Follow Lyft to IPO Market in 2019
Israel-based taxi-hailing app Gett Inc. may follow Lyft to the market with an IPO in 2019, reports said.
Ride-hailing company Lyft confirmed Monday it plans to sell 30.8 million Class A shares on Nasdaq in an initial public offering with a price range of $62 to $68 a share. The IPO would value Lyft at between $21 billion and $23 billion, TheStreet reported.
“We will see how Lyft goes, we believe there’s a lot of public capital waiting for the [technology] darlings [Uber and Lyft], but we also believe that our business model makes sense,” Gett founder and CEO Dave Waiser told the Financial Times.
Unlike Uber and Lyft, Gett books rides through established taxi operators, such as New York’s yellow taxis and London’s black cabs. More than half of Gett’s revenue comes from about 20,000 business accounts.
Formerly known as GetTaxi, Gett acquired Juno, New York’s third-largest ride-hailing app by market share in April 2017, but may be trying to sell it off, reported Crain’s, which cited a person familiar with the matter. The source also said Gett was losing $1 million a day in its New York City operation.
Gett is aiming to become profitable in every market in the first quarter of 2019, said investor Vostok New Ventures Ltd, which held a 5.6% stake as of June 2018. Stockholm-listed Vostok reported in a 2018 report that Gett generated $1 billion in revenue and performs 100 million rides per year globally. The app is available in more than 120 cities, including London, Moscow, Israel and New York.
Gett could list its IPO either on the London Stock Exchange or in Israel, Waiser said.
Lyft will market the offering to mutual funds and hedge funds in meetings in New York and other cities. The shares could be priced as soon as March 28.
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