New York’s taxi fare hike pleases drivers, but owners want more

A taxi in Sunnyside. (chrisgoldny via flickr)
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Minty Grover

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New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission is voting today on whether to raise taxi fares by 17 percent. As part of the proposal, certain caps on what medallion owners can charge drivers for the lease of their medallions will be raised slightly too.

For drivers, who are among the most poorly compensated workers in New York on a per-hour basis, the fare hike represents a long-overdue adjustment. For medallion owners, it’s a giveaway by the city that they’re missing out on.

During a public hearing Monday, dozens of drivers and members of the Taxi Workers Alliance crowded into a small room on the 19th floor of 33 Beaver Street, in downtown Manhattan, for a public hearing. They were there to show support for the measure.

On the other side, testifying in opposition to the fare hike, were a number taxi-fleet owners and medallion-license agents, who didn’t feel the lease-cap raise was enough.

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The commission is proposing to raise the cap by about $180 per week for agents, to $1025. For fleet owners, the lease cap will remain almost the same, except for a lease adjustment that will account for cancelling the five-percent surcharge that drivers pay from each credit card fare for processing transactions.

“I can’t imagine that somebody would take the position, ‘Well, I don’t want to see the taxi driver earn more because I’m not earning more,’” said city taxi commissioner David Yassky at the hearing. “That seems just ungracious.”

The commission said that driver income has gone down significantly since the last fare hike in 2006 because of issues like the steep rise in the cost of gas. The commission estimated monthly gas costs for taxi drivers at $500 in 2006 compared with $800 this year.

Many drivers at the hearing said that agents and fleet owners get enough from them, and make far more than drivers who are already struggling to get by financially.

“And they’re complaining that they want part of this fare increase,” said Victor Salazar, who said he has driven for seven or eight different garages. “Shame on them.”

Ethan Gerber from the Greater New York Taxi Association, representing fleet owners, said the proposal needed to benefit drivers and the owners who lease to them more equally.

“With all due respect, commissioner, you’ve created a poison pill,” Gerber said to Yassky from the podium.

But the commission said it hadn’t received accurate revenue estimates from fleet owners, who hoped to demonstrate the need for a lease-cap raise. The commission estimated average profits per medallion for fleet owners at about $10,000 higher than the figures they were given by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (which didn’t testify at the hearing.)

“Basically what they’re saying is, ‘Trust me, I need more money, here’s how much I want,’” said Allan Fromberg, a commission representative. “And we can’t do that.”

Basil Messados, from the Committee for Taxi Safety, representing agents, said lease caps for agents should be increased more because they find it difficult to compete with fleet owners at the proposed increase. But he said he believed the vote in favor of the proposal was a foregone conclusion anyway.

“What they did was they gave nothing to the fleets,” he said. “They threw us a bone. And everything stays in the driver’s pocket.”