The Queens organization or The Committee for Taxi Safety is denouncing Uber’s proposal of a “hardship fund” to help bail out struggling yellow medallion taxicabs in New York City, amid a spate of driver suicides in the past six months.
On June 18, following the recent suicide of Abdul Saleh in his Brooklyn home — the sixth yellow taxi driver or owner to take his own life in less than six months — launched a “Clock of Inaction” to document how much time has passed since the first tragic death without any legislative action being taken by the City Council to address the crisis and regulate Uber.
“As long as the Council continues to drag its feet, we will continue to remind them of their obligation to step up and do the right thing,” said David Beier, president of The Committee for Taxi Safety. “There is nothing stopping the Council from working immediately to regulate Uber and save lives.”
The Committee for Taxi Safety is comprised of licensed New York City taxi agents managing approximately 20 percent of the yellow medallion vehicles in New York City Just days before Saleh’s suicide, Uber Chief Executive
Dara Khosrowshahi told the New York Post that the city should impose a fee on all ride-sharing apps to create a fund to help yellow cab drivers who bought their medallions at a high cost and are struggling to pay their debt. But taxi advocates contend the real solution is placing a cap on Uber cars and enforcing regulated prices on ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft that continue to take their customers.
Khosrowshahi did not say how much the fee should be.
“His proposal, of course, does not provide any real answers to the struggles facing yellow taxi owners and drivers,” said Beier. “It would just help Uber to continue maximizing its own profits in New York City.”
According to Khosrowshahi, the fee would help any independent medallion owners — not fleet bosses or investors. About 25 percent of the 13,587 city taxi medallions currently are owned by independent drivers.
“Things have changed, and if we can be a part of the a solution to make things better to help get some of these owner-operators get out from under water and to continue making a better life and to make a decent life and to help themselves, we want to do that,” Khosrowshahi said. “We don’t want to be a part of the problem.”
Beier said the owners and drivers of taxi medallions are in “enormous debt” with over hundreds and thousands of dollars of outstanding loans, leaving drivers feeling hopeless. Medallions were once extremely valuable, but in the years since Uber and similar companies disrupted the industry, the value of medallions has dropped to $175,000 from over $1 million.
“This went from the American dream, to saving money and buying medallions, to an American nightmare because the city of New York failed to act and protect the medallion license,” said Beier.
According to Beier, New York City Council Members have made numerous statements of condolences for the yellow taxi drivers and owners lost in recent months, but they have not voted on any legislation that would actually fix the problem by limiting the number of ride-sharing vehicles allowed on the streets of New York City.
The yellow taxi industry is required by law to keep its fleet capped at approximately 14,000 vehicles, but there are now more than 100,000 cars driven for companies like Uber in the five boroughs, making it virtually impossible for drivers to earn a living wage, Beier said.
“Uber came in with no regulations, no accessibility, no caps or restrictions,” said Beier. “There’s no way to compete with them; they’re not under the same regulation as we are.”
The Committee for Taxi Safety applauded City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D-Manhattan) for recently acknowledging that the Council “made a mistake” by failing to impose a limit on Uber’s growth when a bill was introduced in 2015. Beier said the Council is beginning to look into the issue again.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had dropped the plan to temporarily cap Uber, after an agreement was made with the company to conduct a four-month study on the effect of Uber and other for-hire vehicle operators on New York’s traffic, according to a source from City Hall.
“We’re not seeking favorable treatment, but equal treatment,” Beier said. “The more drivers and cars you put on the road, the less fares and income each driver gets. Creating a fair and level playing field is what taxi owners and drivers have been requesting for years.”
Uber and Lyft Drivers in Chicago Will Hold Rally to Protest Abuse and Low Wages
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.
More Than 100 Cars Damaged in NYC Mall Parking Garage Inferno; Suspect Arrested: NYPD
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.
Council moves ahead on bills to help taxis
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.
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