The Taxi and Limousine Commission has approved new regulations that would allow up to 18,000 livery car owners to eventually pick up street hails in the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan.
The vote came two days after a pre-emptive strike by medallion taxi owners, who have filed a law suit in Manhattan to stop the TLC from issuing the new permits.
The vote followed a public hearing held in Brooklyn on April 19, and came two days after the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade and five taxi medallion owners filed suit in New York County Supreme Court to stop the new rules.
The regulations will allow livery car owners, who right now are not permitted to take street hails anywhere in the city, to purchase permits to do so in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs, which the TLC alleges are underserved by yellow cabs.
A spokesman for the TLC said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that they intend to begin selling the new licenses in June.
Under old rules, livery cars were only allowed to m=pick up passengers by appointment. Medallion cabs has exclusive rights to cruise for street hails.
The new permits would specifically bar livery cab drivers from picking up fares in the busiest parts of Manhattan or at Kennedy and LaGuardia airports.
Those areas will remain off limits to all but yellow medallion cabs.
But the TLC and the city claims that medallion drivers tended to stay in central and lower Manhattan and the airports. Many drivers would illegally refuse fares to northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs.
“We are seeing the birth of a whole new service today that will allow communities throughout the five boroughs to enjoy,” said TLC Chairman David Yassky .”
Michael Woloz, spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade said the TLC is effectively damaging the value of the medallions for which his members have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, often through costly bank financing.
“Let’s say you went to a medallion auction in 2007,” Woloz said. “The TLC is going around the city saying ‘This is a good investment!’”
He said the TLC has stressed the exclusivity clause as a selling point, and that owners, in deciding to invest in one or more medallions, were relying on the good faith of the TLC and the city to enforce the long-standing exclusivity clause for street hails, and say the livery car regulations reduce the value of the medallions and amount to a taking of value.
“You expect that is a legally protected right,” he said.
As for the contention that some areas are not well-served, Woloz acknowledged that taxis tend to gravitate toward mid- to lower Manhattan and the airports.
He said there already are regulations and penalties in place for drivers who refuse to take passengers anywhere within New York City and some parts of Nassau County, up to and including loss of the medallion.
He also said they were in talks with the TLC and the city on how to have more cabs in the outer boroughs.
“Nobody is claiming the current system is perfect,” he said. “No one is saying there isn’t a problem in Bayside with no cabs regularly based there, or in some parts of the Bronx ... There are a dozen ways to do that without damaging or destroying the value of the medallions,” Woloz said.
He said current medallions have outstanding financing of $5 billion.
The 33-page lawsuit also alleges that the mayor did an end run around city home rule regulations by going to the state legislature to pass the Outer Borough law; and that it did not conduct required environmental and economic impact studies.
It claims that for as little as $1,500, livery drivers gain access to a market that medallion owners have paid up to $1 million for.
It also says that the city has never adequately enforced the illegal street pickups by livery cars over the past decades.
Owners of paratransit vehicles, such as ambulettes fitted to transport the handicapped, also may apply for the new permits.
And in fact, they are essential to it’s success.
The law signed by Gov. Cuomo requires that out of every 1,000 of the new permits issued, 200 must be for vehicles that are equipped to transport wheelchairs and the handicapped.
“The state law is very clear in that aspect,” Woloz said, adding that an existing federal lawsuit is challenging the taxi and livery car accessibility issue in New York City as a whole.
The TLC spokesman said “there will be demand for both” types of permits in sufficient numbers, and that they are proceeding with the sale.
Should the plan survive its legal challenges, the city and TLC still will have to work out some fine details.
All the eligible livery cars, for example, will be one color that has yet to be chosen. They will all will be required to have the same meters and charge the same fares as taxis.
They also will have to add proper outside lights and signs.