MANHATTAN (CN) – The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission voted Tuesday to permanently freeze the number of Ubers, Lyfts and other ride-hailing vehicles that drive here.
A one-year cap on such vehicles was set to expire next week. It was first instituted last August after a 39-6 City Council vote.
From 12,600 in 2015 to more than 80,000 last year, the number of Uber, Lyft, Via and similar vehicles on the city’s streets has exploded in recent years, according to Taxi and Limousine Commission reported by Bloomberg. More cars mean more of them drive around empty, increasing congestion and emissions.
In addition to the vehicle cap, the commission voted Wednesday to reduce the amount of time drivers can spend looking for riders below 60th street in Manhattan. That allotted downtown time will drop to 31% by August 2020, down from its current level of 41%.
Uber challenged the cap in court earlier this year, claiming it relied on bogus traffic data. The ride-hailing service said the cap was anti-competitive and “will have a disproportionate impact on residents outside of Manhattan who have long been underserved by yellow taxis and mass transit” in the outer-borough areas where most Uber trips occur.
New Yorkers are split on the issue, with some saying the city should instead address other causes of its traffic-congestion crisis, such as by implementing congestion pricing in Midtown Manhattan. The city’s residents are also widely frustrated with the crumbling subway system, which sometimes forces people to find alternate methods of transportation, with the history of race discrimination among yellow cabs, and with the trend of sporadic taxi service in the outer-boroughs.
Community groups in the city have fought against the cap, saying it stifles drivers’ abilities to buy rather than lease the cars they use.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, a contender in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, weighed in on the decision Wednesday.
“For far too long, ride-share apps took advantage of their drivers,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Their wages plummeted and families struggled to put food on their tables. We stood up and said no more. We will not let big corporations walk all over hardworking New Yorkers and choke our streets with congestion. Our caps have resulted in increased wages and families finally have some relief.”
Arthur Goldstein, a former attorney for the Taxicab Service Association, called the cap long overdue.
“The ride-hailing cap will help to reduce congestion on our streets, but does not adequately address the consequences of nearly a decade of government inaction,” Goldstein, who is with the firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, said in an email. “When Uber, Lyft and other app-based companies began flooding the streets with cars, many yellow cab owners who have invested in taxi medallions were deprived of an opportunity to earn a return on their investment. These largely immigrant entrepreneurs who invested in taxi medallions are still suffering. Uber and Lyft continue to operate relatively free from regulations applied to their regulated yellow cab competitors and, with ten of thousands of ride-hailing vehicles remaining on the street, the problem persists.”