NYTWA & elected officials call for taxi driver exemption from congestion pricing

Stephon Johnson | 5/30/2019, 9:10 p.m.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has called for its constituents to be exempt from congestion pricing.
Yellow Taxis in NYC. Contributed

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance has called for its constituents to be exempt from congestion pricing.

Members of the NYTWA along with New York City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Fernando Cabrera called on New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo to exempt taxi drivers from congestion pricing. Citing a financial crisis that’s seen ridership numbers and the price of medallions drop, NYTWA Bhairavi Desai said that congestion pricing would put drivers farther in the hole.

“Without an exemption from the congestion surcharge, taxi drivers—whether they are lease drivers or owner-drivers—simply won’t earn enough to survive, even if their expenses go down,” stated Desai. “Every single legislator looking to hold hearings and draft bills on predatory lending also needs to champion an exemption from the surcharge. The surcharge has caused a downturn in ridership at a time when drivers are struggling more than ever.”

Last February, yellow taxis and other ride-hailing apps received fees that will be applied to the customer’s bill for any ride that goes below 96th street. The fees are $2.50 for yellow cab drivers, $2.75 for the for-hire vehicles, and 75 cents for shared pool rides. According to the NYTWA, since the congestion pricing went into effect, taxi drivers have reported a 15-20 percent loss in revenue. There’s also been a 50 percent decrease in riders using yellow taxis in New York since 2014. Along with the 50-cent surcharged placed on yellow taxis by the MTA in 2011, Cuomo’s proposed surcharge would be the third surcharge drivers would see.

“This surcharge was never intended to fix congestion,” Besai stated. “Regulated yellow taxis did not create the gridlock on our streets today. The unchecked proliferation of Uber and Lyft has choked our streets and siphoned off public transit riders, worsening the MTA budget shortfall. Instead of holding private capital accountable, the surcharge punishes a workforce facing an economic crisis that has pushed nine of our brothers to suicide.”

Desai wants the New York City Council to form a permanent taskforce to oversee the medallion lending market and determine the current market value and oversee a program to forgive all loan amounts that exceed the value determined by the taskforce. She also wants a cap of medallion mortgage payments, regulations of fare rates across the industry and an establishment of a retirement fund for all drivers.

Rodriguez, the chair of the transportation committee, uttered similar sentiments when expressing his desire to see taxi drivers exempt from congestion pricing.

“Our taxi drivers are currently facing a financial epidemic unlike any other we’ve ever seen. Our drivers, many of whom are immigrants, are suffering from the already imposed congestion pricing that went into effect in February. This fee has caused taxi drivers to see a decrease in the amount of revenue they make as well as the amount of rides they give,” stated Rodriguez. “We have a moral obligation to call for an exemption on the taxi drivers from the current surcharge as well as the one to come. As the chairman of the committee on transportation I will be working alongside speaker Corey Johnson, colleagues and advocates to ensure that we come up with a plan to help our struggling taxi drivers.”

One elected official noted that a congestion fee for taxis not only affects the drivers, it affects the people who use them.

“Per-trip, pass-thru surcharges are onerous on riders that rely on taxis for basic needs every day and on drivers already suffering from the onslaught of app-based for-hire vehicles,” stated Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. “I’ve heard too many complaints from seniors taking trips to the doctor and parents dropping off or picking up kids at school, let alone drivers trying to make an adequate living, to be able to defend a per-trip congestion fee for yellow cabs.”