Bloomberg drives to the Bronx in a wheelchair-accessible taxi, calls new bill better than the original
On the heels of a landmark agreement that will bring substantially more taxi service to the outer boroughs, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took a wheelchair-accessible cab to the Bronx today and did a victory lap, calling the agreement something "that many cynically believed would never come."
"We were all told the odds against us were high, and that the Albany lobby was too powerful and that the improved taxi service law was dead in the water," said the mayor, standing in a dimly lit room at the back of Seaman livery dispatch service, beneath the elevated 1 train in Upper Manhattan. "But we refused to believe that that was true. We refused to bow down to the special interests. And when they hired every lobbyist in town we kept fighting, because we had the people on our side. This is the right thing for New York City."
Livery-base owners packed the room and raucously applauded the mayor for his stewardship of the legislation. (Some livery-base owners strongly support the mayor's plan; others oppose it.)
Governor Andrew Cuomo is today signing what's known as the "borough taxi bill," which will allow 18,000 newly empowered livery-car drivers to pick up street hails, and allow the city to auction off 2,000 wheelchair-accessible yellow taxi medallions. It was based on a bill that the legislature passed in June, but that the governor delayed signing for months.
At present, livery-car drivers, who often service the outer boroughs where yellow taxis are scarce, are forbidden by law from picking up passengers off the street. They nevertheless do so, but at the risk of substantial fines.
"Imagine you losing two weeks of pay," said Jose Altamirano, the owner of Barrios Car Service, in East Harlem. "It hurts the drivers a lot. It hurts their financials, their families."
The mayor joined Taxi and Limousine commissioner David Yassky, and supporters of the legislation in the Assembly, Carl Heastie, Karim Camara, Guillermo Linares, and Felix Ortiz, for the celebration.
"To see outer-borough taxi service and to allow an industry who has pretty much been in the dark for 40 years to be able to now pridefully come out of the shadows I think is a tremendous thing," said Heastie.
Though negotiations over the measure have been fraught with tension between the city and state, the mayor once again sought to dispel the notion that he and the governor don't get along. He even went so far as to say the end result of the negotiations might be better than the original legislation passed in June, in part because it includes 500 more yellow taxi medallions.
"From day one, the governor and I had conversations," said the mayor. "He said he'd like to change a few small things but would not change the substance of it. And that's exactly what happened. And I think on balance, because [of] Yassky representing the city, and the governor's staff representing him, we came out with a better bill than what we started with, which is what democracy's supposed to be."
Outer-borough taxis are expected to begin going into service by June.