More conversation is needed before ride-share companies such as Lyft and Uber get access to taxi stands, city councillors agreed Monday. The idea, floated Feb. 11 by the city’s Traffic, Parking & Transportation Department as a way to help get stopped cars out of traffic as they pick up riders, will have to go to a Transportation Committee hearing first.
Discussion was overall sympathetic to cab drivers and skeptical toward the so-called transportation network companies, which are widely seen as worsening traffic in cities such as Cambridge, Boston and New York.
“In hindsight,” the approach taken by the city a few years ago when regulation first came up “probably wasn’t as wise as it could have been,” vice mayor Jan Devereux said Monday. While describing herself as a user of both taxis and TNCs and promising no outcomes, she said she favored more discussion among councillors and city staff and more input from taxi drivers to take place in the committee she leads.
The idea was endorsed quickly by councillors Sumbul Siddiqui, Alanna Mallon and E. Denise Simmons – agreeing the topic was overdue for reexamination, and with Simmons adding that “maybe more than one” conversation was needed about regulating TNCs “before we take away taxi stands.” (The current proposal would let drivers for Lyft and Uber use some taxi stands for passenger pickup but not let them wait there to be summoned, and it would not take away taxi stands.)
Simmons also suggested looking at letting cars do passenger pickup and drop-off in unused business loading zones.
Several drivers from the Cambridge Taxi Drivers Owners Association appeared Monday with ideas of their own.
In addition to seeking state permission for Cambridge to set its own limits on how many drivers and vehicles are registered to pick up and drop off passengers within city limits, they want strict enforcement of interloping drivers – including those in out-of-town cabs – and boosts for their profession: the return of cab stands taken away at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cambridge Hospital; stands at all new hotels, and new branding for taxis on the stands and cars, as well as links from city-sponsored websites or social media; and grants or no-interest loans to buy vehicles to be used as licensed taxis within the city.
A ride-hailing app for taxis is in use in New York and on the way here, the drivers said – ideally to fare better than the Origa app released in 2015 by brothers and Cambridge taxi drivers Prabhdeep and Paramveer Singh. The app never caught on, and is no longer available for download.
“The city has lost 40 to 50 percent of its taxi fleet. The industry is at almost nothing,” driver and association leader Mohannad Mallak said during the meeting’s public comment period. There are more than a quarter-million drivers of Lyfts and Ubers in Cambridge, Boston and Brookline, “pushing the taxi industry to the edge [of] putting it out of business forever.”
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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