Drivers debate taxi plan

Standing with signs in front of City Hall, yellow taxi drivers protest Albany legislation to bring livery cabs that passengers can hail to the outer boroughs. One group of taxi drivers is in favor of the plan but two others are against it. AP Photo/Richard Drew
By Rebecca Henely and Ivan Pereira

As the state Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to bring livery cabs that passengers can hail to the outer boroughs, City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) shared his story of how taxi drivers refused to take him and his pregnant daughter out of Manhattan earlier this month.

“This is not simply a racial issue,” said Sanders, who is black. “It is a major outer borough issue.”

The mayor’s office and the city Taxi and Limousine Commission are in favor of a plan to issue 30,000 permits and sell 1,500 new medallions for yellow cabs. After initial resistance, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance gave its thumbs up to the plan Monday, but the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers and Metropolitan Taxi Cab Board of Trade remain against the plan and protested outside Albany Tuesday.

“We don’t have a problem with the idea, we just have a problem with the plan that they put forth,” said Sergio Rodriguez, executive director of the federation.

A total of 30,000 permits would be offered to non-yellow cabs, which have the right to pick up passengers who hail them in the outer boroughs.

The Board of Trade said called the sale of permits and new medallions a “money grab” and a “shameless give-away” in a statement.

“The yellow taxi industry will stop at nothing to fight and protect its hard-earned exclusive right to pick up street hails,” the statement said.

Albany governs the dispersal of taxi cab medallions. Earlier this month, state Sen. Marty Goldman (R-Brooklyn) and state Assemblyman Carl Heastie (D-Staten Island) introduced the bill. The initial medallion sale will go to drivers who have been licensed for three years and are in good standing with the commission.

“The residents of those areas … would be able to hail a new class of taxi cab in their neighborhoods, free from worries about whether the car is safe or whether they will have to haggle over the price,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

Sanders had similar worries earlier this month when he met his daughter, who was in the city for a conference, in SoHo for lunch.

“Somewhere in there she lets me know I’m going to be a grandfather,” Sanders said.

After lunch, Sanders and his daughter tried for 45 minutes to get a cab to Yonkers with no avail. He and his daughter walked to a nearby hotel surrounded by cabs, but two drivers refused. Sanders called up TLC Commissioner David Yassky on his cell phone, who said cab drivers were not allowed to refuse to go to a spot and can take people to Westchester County, New York and New Jersey, but the drivers still said no.

Eventually, Sanders ended up taking a livery cab for $85 plus tolls.

Rodriguez said his issue with the plan was that it asks taxi cab drivers to put out a large investment for a permit that may not provide them with a return on their investment if bringing cabs to the outer boroughs turns out not to be profitable. He suggested an alternate plan where for $30,000 drivers can purchase a yellow cab medallion and get six outer borough medallions for free.

Sanders said he was open to novel ideas and suggested the taxi drivers could pay for the fee over two or three years.

“I’m interested of ways of everyone winning,” he said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

More from Around New York