The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), along with the mayor’s office, has been working to address what they have called the “outer-borough problem.” According to the TLC, taxi service outside Manhattan is nearly non-existent, leaving riders with little choice but to hail “gypsy cabs.” These vehicles are not licensed by the TLC and operate illegally.
Improving taxi service outside of Manhattan is a major initiative of the mayor’s office, but the plan has not come without its fair share of controversy. TLC medallion holders voiced their concern that one of the proposed programs would devalue their medallions’ face value. Bushwick riders said they thought the the black car service cost less than yellow cabs. Livery industry representatives said they thought the initiative would destroy the livery business model.
Despite the controversy, the TLC is pushing forward with the mayor’s stated goal.
According to TLC Commissioner David Yassky the outer-borough problem is the result of licensed yellow cabs staying within Manhattan, where it is easier for them to get fares. Citing data compiled by the TLC, Yassky said at a Bushwick community board meeting in March that 97 percent of all taxi pick ups occur in Manhattan or at the airports. In the absence of taxi service, Yassky said, 22 thousand “gypsy cabs” serve the outer boroughs, representing a need for the TLC to expand its operations.
Allan Fromberg, TLC deputy commissioner for public affairs, said the outer-borough plan had not been finalized and that the TLC is working closely with legislators and stakeholders to develop the best program. Because of this, it is unclear what the TLC is planning, although two possibilities seem likely.
The first possibility is a program that will enable TLC-commissioned livery cars to legally pick-up riders who hail them off the street. Vehicles under this program would be required to adopt some additional TLC equipment, such as a fare meter, a credit-card reader and a roof lamp. The TLC had been promoting this program to the community boards in March and April.
The second possibility, according to reports from the New York Times on April 27 and May 12, citing unnamed sources familiar to the outer-borough discussion, is the creation of a new type of yellow cab which will be prohibited from picking up riders inside Manhattan. According to these reports, the outer-borough yellow cab program supersedes the plan to allow livery drivers to pick-up street-hailers, although Fromberg declined to verify the reports and insisted that the livery-street-hail plan had not been scrapped.
“I can’t speak to a New York Times article that is unattributed,” Fromberg said. “You can not find anything in that article with official corroboration.”
Although Fromberg declined to provide specific details regarding the current state of the outer-borough initiative, he said that the TLC was confident that it would meet the mayor’s goal of improved taxi service outside of Manhattan, “regardless of the way that happens.”
One of the biggest opponents to proposal to allow livery driver’s to pick-up street-hails is the Livery Round Table, a livery industry interest group which represents over 26,000 workers in the tri-state area. Guy Palumbo, round-table executive director, speaking at the same community board meeting as Yassky, said that the livery organization supported the TLC’s goal of improving outer borough taxi service as well as condemned the practice of illegal street-hailing by livery vehicles.
According to Palumbo, allowing livery drivers to operate as both a dispatch service and a street pick-up service would reduce the effectiveness of the base operator. Palumbo said that because livery drivers would be preoccupied with serving their street hailed riders, the pool of available riders would be reduced, thus increasing delivery time and hurting the industry’s reputation with riders.
In Bushwick and many urban neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, “gypsy cabs” are a common sight. Some are licensed by the TLC as livery vehicles, others are not licensed at all. All are picking up street-hailers illegally. At any time on Broadway one may hear the staccato of the black car’s horn, vying for passengers. Either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that these drivers are breaking the law, riders seem to have no reservations about getting in a “gypsy cab.”
Javier Barreto, a driver for 440 Car Service on Myrtle Avenue, said that he was dubious that there is an outer-borough problem. “There’s already enough cabs [car services] in Bushwick. We don’t need any yellow cabs. That’s why they’re in Manhattan,” Barreto said. “Everything is money, that’s it.”
Barreto said that he thought the program to bring yellow cabs to the outer boroughs would hurt the local car service industry by reducing the number of calls they receive.
“When they open a new car service in our area, it reduces our calls. I’d imagine if we had yellow cabs working here there would be even less calls,” he said. “It’s going to be a loss for us.”
Luis Gonzalez, another 440 driver, also said he believed the new yellow cab program was “all about the bacon,” but he did not have the same fears Barreto had. He said he did not believe business would be hurt, “because the service we provide, we go straight to your house and pick you up. Yellow cabs don’t do this.”
Maritza Rodriguez, Bushwick resident, said the black cars “help the community a lot, especially people like my mom. She uses them when she goes to the hospital.”
Rodriguez also said that she thinks black cars cost less than their yellow cab counterparts, and said she did not like the idea of black cars adopting meters. “With the meter, whew, it will go sky high,” she said. “Don’t put no meters. Everything is good. They should leave it the way it is.”
Andrew Hennifeld, Bushwick resident, said he would not use yellow cabs if they began appearing in Bushwick. “It’s a rip off! It will be a terrible thing if the car service industry gets hurt. A lot of people rely on the black cars,” he said. “It’ll be sad day in Bushwick.”
Yassky said in March that he hoped to see a program go to the City Council by June, but in light of recent developments, it is unlikely to be voted on that soon. Fromberg said he could not say for certain when the plan would be voted on.