NYC City Council to Consider Pause in Granting Uber Licenses

(Bloomberg) -- New York City Council leaders are seeking a one-year halt on issuing new licenses for Uber and similar ride-hail vehicles, while a comprehensive study proceeds into their relationship to traffic congestion, industry economics, driver working conditions and passenger service.

The permit moratorium, which contains an exception for wheelchair-accessible vehicles, is part of a five-point legislative package City Council Speaker Corey Johnson released Friday, which would also end license fees for all for-hire vehicles accommodating disabled riders. Other proposals would create a drivers’ minimum wage and reduce fines for non-taxi livery drivers who pick up street hails, which is against city regulations.

The proposals come after a spate of six driver suicides in the past eight months dramatized their economic plight, and helped focus attention on the economic costs associated with traffic congestion. App-based vehicles on city streets have increased to more than 80,000, from 12,600 since 2015, according to the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission.

“Something needed to be done to address the disruption we’ve seen over the last several years in the taxi and for-hire vehicle industry,” Johnson said in a prepared statement. “Our goal has always been to protect drivers, bring fairness to the industry, and reduce congestion.”

Uber spokesman Jason Post criticized the proposed licensing pause, saying it would create artificial scarcity and encourage more drivers to seek riders in Manhattan’s dense urban core. Total trips across the city throughout the for-hire industry are up 40 percent since 2015, totaling more than 317 million, he said.

“The council’s cap will hurt riders outside Manhattan who have come to rely on Uber because their communities have long been ignored by yellow taxis and do not have reliable access to public transit,” Post said.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a driver advocacy group, said a council-ordered pause in granting ride-hail licenses would be a first step toward solving the industry’s problems.

"Driver organizing pushed City Council to introduce a bill to cap for-hire vehicles," said Bhairavi Desai, the group’s executive director. "The 50,000 professional drivers in New York City that are not dispatched through an app can’t be left behind."

Among other changes, the proposals include a bill that would create a new two-year license and regulatory scheme for app-based ride companies that provide more than 10,000 trips a day. This would require them to submit business plans demonstrating the demand for service in the areas where they would operate, and be subject to environmental review.

The council will also consider how to create a fare structure that would guarantee minimum pay standards for drivers, and financial protections for drivers who are purchasing or leasing cars.

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