Cuomo hints at a new de Blasio fight, this time over Uber
On Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo indicated that Uber might present another occasion for the state to step in and organize something New York City — and its mayor — couldn't.
Speaking to reporters following an event about women’s equality in Manhattan, Cuomo said that Uber, and technologies like it, necessitate a new form of regulation, one that is necessarily statewide in scope and, therefore, under his control.
"You can’t do Uber city by city," he said.
"When you think about it, it can’t work otherwise, right?” said Cuomo. “You’re an Uber driver in New York City, you then drive to Nassau and drop off a person. It only works if you can pick up a person in Nassau. And it has to be the same terms and conditions, et cetera. So really a statewide license is appropriate.”
Cuomo's comments come at a pivotal time for Uber. The car-hail app maker has just begun an aggressive push to operate statewide in New York.
A four-month study of Uber's effect on traffic launched by the city, after the company beat back an attempt by Mayor Bill de Blasio to impose temporary limits on its growth, is nearing its completion date. To people paying close attention to Uber's trajectory, and the governor's relationship with de Blasio, Cuomo's comments on Wednesday looked suspiciously like a warning shot across the mayor's bow: Regulate Uber too strigently, and I will supersede you.
“Obviously, Cuomo wants to be in charge here,” emailed Nicole Gelinas, a transportation expert at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute.
Cuomo’s office didn't respond to a request for comment about whether, in fact, Cuomo is threatening to pull rank on New York regulators, should de Blasio try to regulate Uber.
But if he did, it would keep with a recent pattern established by Cuomo's intervention in de Blasio's attempts to handle issues ranging from charter school growth to MTA funding to containment of the Legionnaires' outbreak in the Bronx.
Asked for comment, de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell emailed, “There are laws in place that govern cross-border trips between counties. We are confident in the high standards we have in NYC to protect the riding public.”
With Uber’s New York City business roaring, the San Francisco-based company with the more-than-$50 billion valuation has turned its attention to the rest of New York.
Cuomo, an avowed enthusiast, has said that Uber is "one of these great inventions, start-ups, of this new economy."
De Blasio has proven more ambivalent.
After an expensive and damaging summertime brawl with Uber, de Blasio backed away from a proposal to temporarily cap its growth while studying its impact on traffic congestion. Instead, he launched a four-month study on the same thing. He said a cap was still on the table, should Uber's growth get too out of hand.
When a reporter asked Cuomo on Wednesday whether, in fact, he sought to supersede New York City regulation, Cuomo didn't quite answer the question.
"You would have a statewide license," he said. "And then local governments could do local regulations of their taxi and limousines, but you’d have a statewide license for statewide operators."
Few if any municipalities in the United States rival New York City’s success in forcing Uber and other car-hail apps to conform to its regulations.
So stringent has the Taxi and Limousine Commission proven, and so eager was Uber to gain access to the country’s most important taxi market, that Uber agreed to operate as a black car company, and abide by New York City rules governing such companies: It’s set up “bases” for vehicles to “affiliate with,” it has to share trip data with the city, its drivers have to be professionally licensed, and so on. It's also participating in a city-sanctioned e-hail program for New York City yellow and green cabs.
There is no “ridesharing” in New York City.
On Wednesday, after he spoke to reporters in Manhattan, Cuomo’s remarks circulated in the seventh-floor conference room of the Legislative Office Building in Albany, where Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat who chairs the chamber's insurance committee, had convened a forum of taxi industry types. Uber and Lyft were represented. New York City taxi commissioner Meera Joshi was there.
Afterwards, without referencing Cuomo’s remarks, a reporter asked Joshi whether local regulation was an important thing.
“We absolutely need — and I think any municipality, not just New York — would want to retain local control to set a higher standard if that's what works best for their community,” she said.
And anyway, no city in New York (not to mention the country) is like New York City.
“We transport a million people plus a day, we're bigger than the public transportation networks in some big cities, like Boston, Philadelphia — so we need to have a much different regulatory system than may be applicable in a smaller municipality,” she said. “The general theme is local control: every municipality should be able to have the option to go higher than what a statewide minimum is.”
—additional reporting by Jimmy Vielkind