After a record taxi medallion sale, competing interpretations

Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Today, the city's taxi commission auctioned off 200 taxi medallions, the first public sale of the aluminum plates that endow their owners with the right to operate taxicabs since 2008.

Not only is the sale expected to generate more than $200 million for the city, but the bids came in at record highs.

Two medallions for wheelchair-accessible cabs sold for $1.259 million each, nearly twice as much as the highest winning bid for accessible medallions in '08.

Because accessible vehicles are heavier and more expensive than regular taxis, accessible medallions historically sell for about 10 percent less than regular medallions, according to Medallion Financial president Andrew Murstein.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

So it's worth nothing that the prices for these non-premium medallions fall just a pinch below the regular medallion all-time high of $1.3 million, which happened in May.

What any of this means depends on who you ask.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, for one, thinks the market is vindicating his controversial taxi reform efforts.

"I'm not here to crow," he crowed today, at a press event on Governors Island. "It's just...a lot of people are afraid to try new things. And I think that an awful lot of the things that we’ve done, maybe not everything, have proven to be successful."

His taxi commissioner, David Yassky, took a slightly less self-aggrandizing tack.

"These prices are a strong vote of confidence in the health of the taxi of industry and by extension the health of the city’s economy," he said in an interview this afternoon. "There’s more demand for taxi service than there are taxis on the street."

Talk to someone from the taxi industry and you'll get a slightly different take.

Take Murstein, whose publicly-traded Medallion Financial both owns medallions and finances medallion transactions.

He attributed the higher-than-expected bids to a couple of factors.

First, unemployment is still relatively high, which means there's still a lot of people wanting to drive cabs.

"So the cabs are running on high occupancy rates," he said.

Also: "I think people are very excited about de Blasio coming. There was probably a boost because of that. I think if other mayors would have been elected, I don't think the prices would have been as high as these were."

The taxi industry has contributed more than $350,000 to Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign, and he has spoken, opaquely, about amending both Bloomberg's Taxi of Tomorrow program and his borough taxi program, both abhorred by the industry.

"This auction is being held with only 6 weeks left of the 12-year Bloomberg Administration, which has been particularly hostile to yellow taxis," agreed Michael Woloz, spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, in a statement. "As in any market, high prices often reflect optimism—in this case, optimism that after 12 years of hostility —that there is room for the yellow medallion transportation system to continue to expand its high quality service to passengers, provide hundreds of millions in revenue to the City and provide job opportunities to thousands of drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and other key industry members."