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Congestion pricing, not a cap on Uber, will fix NYC traffic woes, report says

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Congestion pricing, not an Uber cap, would be the best way to manage the city’s mounting traffic, according to a new report to be published Tuesday.

The brief from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, titled Hire Congestion, argues that a hard cap on the number of e-hail vehicles on the street would negatively impact service in lower-income, outer-borough neighborhoods by potentially creating an unsavory secondary market similar to that of taxi medallions.

“It speaks to one of the failures of the capping system of yellow cabs; the more expensive this is, the less likely that a yellow cab operator would go to places where there are marginal profits,” said Nick Sifuentes, the executive director at the nonprofit and author of the report. “Making the barrier to entry lower, in terms of cost, for a driver means that more people can actually access the service. Just doing a blanket cap is only going to sort of recapitulate existing failed structures.”

The report comes as the city scrambles to regulate the surging number of e-hail vehicles as traffic congestion continues to worsen and drivers struggle to make ends meet. There were 85,200 for-hire vehicles in 2016 — more than double the 41,200 vehicles recorded in 2010, according to a recent city mobility report. At the same time, travel speeds in Manhattan below 60th Street slowed to 7.2 mph last year, a drop from 9.1 mph in 2010.

Looking at Taxi & Limousine Commission data from the last six months of 2017, TSTC found that 36 percent of e-hail pickups and drop-offs are made in neighborhoods where the average income is below $45,000. That rider base makes up 26 percent of yellow cab service and more than 40 percent for green cabs, which were introduced in 2013 to try and fill gaps in yellow cab service outside Manhattan. That chunk of e-hail service could be wiped away if the city instituted a blanket cap on the vehicles, Sifuentes warned.

Congestion pricing, like the model proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Fix NYC panel early this year, would be a more equitable solution and could be coupled with time-based service limitations for the most congested parts of the city, according to the report, because revenue from congestion fees would also fund the MTA’s subway system.

“A cap on vehicles or other mechanisms of controlling [e-hails] doesn’t actually do the core thing that we need, which is improving the transit system,” Sifuentes said. “It just basically says, ‘There’s too much congestion, so let’s give people fewer options.’”

Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council speaker Corey Johnson have offered support for more regulation of Uber as the Council weighs a package of bills on the topic, including one from Brooklyn Councilman Steve Levin that would institute a temporary cap on the number of e-hails.
“The majority of Uber trips are happening outside of Manhattan and a cap would harm New Yorkers who live in underserved communities long ignored by yellow taxi,” said Alix Anfang, a spokeswoman for Uber. “Transit advocates and academics agree that comprehensive congestion pricing is the best way to solve for congestion in Manhattan, and Uber will continue to work alongside them to push for its passage.”

Levin’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Taxi & Limousine Commission has indicated that it would be open to seeking other forms of growth control, besides a cap.

“This report highlights the need for managing growth in the for-hire vehicle sector in a way that takes into account the mobility needs of New Yorkers outside of Manhattan,” said Rodney Stiles, assistant commissioner for data and technology, in a statement.

Cuomo, who said congestion pricing was an “idea whose time has come” last year, has failed to gain support for the plan, though at an unrelated news conference Monday he pledged to make it a “priority” during the next legislative session in January.

“We have to reduce volume and congestion in the city,” Cuomo said. “It’s not just about the resources from congestion pricing, we can’t handle the volume. The rail system has to be advanced because we can’t handle the vehicular volumes.”

Sifuentes reasoned that the governor could have a better shot getting approval for congestion pricing next session because revenue from a pricing plan could help fund the MTA’s recently released and widely respected “Fast Forward” initiative to modernize subway and bus service, which has been estimated to cost $19 billion, though the authority hasn’t finalized a cost.

“Fast Forward is basically the answer we’ve been waiting for,” Sifuentes said. “Funding it is 100 percent on legislators. And it’s going to be much, much harder for legislators to hide behind that, oh, they don’t know how the MTA is going to spend the money.”

Source: https://www.amny.com/transit/congestion-pricing-nyc-1.19429971

Uber, lyft and other taxis

Uber and Lyft Drivers in Chicago Will Hold Rally to Protest Abuse and Low Wages

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Uber and Lyft drivers in Chicago will rally at O’Hare airport Monday in protest of abuses they have faced from riders as well as the low wages they receive from their work, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Organizers with the group Chicago Rideshare Advocates are working to organize the thousands of drivers across the city to demand better pay and working conditions. Last week the group rallied outside City Hall with a banner that read, “Uber/Lyft Stop Abusing Workers/Cities.”

Mattia Nanfria, a 41-year-old ride-share driver who also organizes with Chicago Rideshare Advocates said she has been propositioned and attacked by riders. She said that after reporting having problems with some riders, Uber didn’t seem to do much to address the issue. “For all I know, they did nothing, which is a little disturbing,” she said.
To make matters worse, Nanfria said there are some weeks when she makes less than the city’s minimum $12 hourly wage. “The weeks where I’m clearing $10 to $12 an hour, that’s what I lose sleep over,” Nanfria told the Sun-Times.

Chicago city officials have considered following New York’s lead and putting a cap on the number of ride-share vehicles in the city, which has quadrupled to nearly 66,000 drivers in the last three years, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Rideshare Associates are on board with capping the number of drivers, along with increasing wages and drivers’ safety.

“Nobody wants to ban Uber and Lyft. Nobody wants that,” Eli Martin, a co-organizer of Chicago Rideshare Advocates told the Sun-Times. “We all like this, we just have to make it work better.”
Both Uber and Lyft oppose the proposal for a license cap.

The surge in ride-sharing services in Chicago has hurt business for cab and taxi drivers, while also worsening working conditions for Uber and Lyft drivers.

Earlier this year, Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi suggested that New York City officials should impose a fee on ride-sharing apps to help taxi medallion owners facing financial burdens from the increase of ride-sharing services. But the New York Taxi Workers Alliance called the proposal “a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated.”

Chicago officials have proposed raising the average wage for drivers, which is currently less than the minimum wage at $11.53 an hour after expenses.

The group will hold its rally at the O’Hare Transportation Network Providers’ parking lot from 7-10 p.m. on Monday.

Source: http://fortune.com/2018/09/16/uber-lyft-drivers-chicago-protest/

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More Than 100 Cars Damaged in NYC Mall Parking Garage Inferno; Suspect Arrested: NYPD

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Police have arrested a man in connection to a seven-alarm inferno that tore through a multi-level parking garage at Brooklyn’s Kings Plaza Shopping Center Monday, enveloping the entire area in thick smoke, engulfing more than 100 vehicles and leaving nearly two dozen people hurt.

Police say they’ve arrested Avon Stephens, 23, on an arson charge in the fire at a parking garage at the mall on Avenue U and Flatbush Avenue. A motive wasn’t clear, and details on an attorney for Stephens weren’t immediately available.
The fire call came in shortly before 9 a.m. Monday, and the blaze quickly escalated from a two-alarm to a four-alarm fire, then became a six-alarm inferno within an hour. By 11:15 a.m., it was a seven-alarm blaze. It was under control by noon.

Twenty-one people, 18 of them firefighters, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, mostly related to smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion. Four of the victims were taken to hospitals. Fire officials warned the patient total would likely rise.
A law enforcement source said 137 cars were damaged, and 70 of them were burned to their shells, many of them Mercedes.
The garage holds about 4,000 spaces and fire officials said 120 cars are normally stored there by a car dealership. There were some explosions from car tires burning; officials said there is no risk of collapse.

Citizen app video showed smoke spewing from the garage as bystanders crowded near emergency vehicles, seeking shelter from the shroud of smoke.
More than a half-dozen MTA bus lines were running with delays in the area because of the FDNY activity. The department said more than 200 of its members responded.

A mall spokesperson said to avoid the area until further notice. The plaza was closed, though officials said the fire did not extend to any stores.
Kings Plaza has more than 120 stores, including Macy’s, Best Buy, Sears, H&M, Michael Kors, Express and Foot Locker.

In 2013, it became the subject of a controversial order that temporarily banned people younger than 18 without the presence of an adult after hundreds of teens attacked patrons and vandalized the shopping center, forcing it to shut down.
No one was ultimately charged in that fray, nor was anyone hurt.

Source: https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Kings-Plaza-Brooklyn-Car-Fires-493470611.html

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Council moves ahead on bills to help taxis

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After years of failing to address the fallout from an upended taxi industry, the City Council is trying to make up for lost time.

Just a month after leading the way to an unprecedented one-year cap on Uber and Lyft vehicles, the council’s for-hire vehicle committee was back in action today with a hearing on nine more bills.

Overall they’re aimed at addressing the economic plight of roughly 6,000 individual taxi-medallion owners and the wider pool of taxi and ride-hail drivers, who now number more than 185,000, up from 30,000 six years ago. The push for more legislation has been fueled by six suicides in the past year by drivers who grew desperate because of their circumstances—and by a sense that the ride-hail industry has lost the ability it once had to block legislation it didn’t like.

The bills include an effort to establish a task force to study medallion values and recommend policies to increase prices and one to ask the Taxi and Limousine Commission to set up a program to provide drivers with health care and other insurance benefits.
If the bills pass, however, it remains unclear when they would bring relief, what form that relief would take and how it would be paid for. The health benefits proposal calls for adding a surcharge to all taxi and for-hire vehicle fares—which would be in addition to a congestion-pricing surcharge ($2.50 for cabs, $2.75 for app-based services) that will go into effect Jan. 1.

Taxi and Limousine Commission chair Meera Joshi, who testified in support of the bills, said it would be better to find a funding mechanism that didn’t antagonize passengers. The FHV committee chair, Ruben Diaz Sr., also spoke up against the surcharge.

The TLC, which will be developing the rules and carrying out the legislation, also will need to find out exactly what the health insurance needs are for the vast majority of drivers.

“That will be a painstaking study,” Joshi said.

Other bills are aimed at fighting predatory practices by car-leasing operators. They would require the TLC to set a cap on costs, ensure consumer-protection practices and prevent leasing operators from making automatic deductions from drivers’ earnings.

Some medallion owners who blame the TLC for allowing Uber and Lyft to flourish declared that the raft of new bills wouldn’t do much good if Joshi remained in charge of developing and enforcing the regulations.

“In our view, there can be no remedy if the remedy and the implementation are left up to the current TLC regime, which is [composed] of leftovers from the Bloomberg administration,” said Carolyn Protz, a medallion owner, who read from a letter from the Taxi Medallion Owner Driver Association.

Joshi was, in fact, appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, and much of the regulatory structure that determined Uber and Lyft’s place in the TLC universe was already in place when she started in May 2014.
In an email, Protz pointed out that Joshi was the TLC’s deputy counsel during the Bloomberg administration and that other senior TLC officials are also Bloomberg alumni.

Source: https://www.crainsnewyork.com/transportation/council-moves-ahead-bills-help-taxis

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