Bloomberg touts demand for borough taxis, before a de Blasio takeover

Bloomberg and Yassky with borough taxis. (Dana Rubinstein)
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"For too long, four-and-a-half out of our five boroughs did not have taxi service," said Mayor Michael Bloomberg today. "And now they do."

Bloomberg was speaking to reporters about one of his favorite pet projects, the borough taxi program, inside a cavernous Williamsburg sound stage partly filled with livery cars that had been painted the program's signature lime green.

Unlike regular livery cars, which can only respond to pre-arranged calls for taxi service, borough taxis can also pick up passengers off the streets in the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan, where yellow taxis are scarce.

Bloomberg first proposed the idea in 2011 and his corporation counsel has spent much of the intervening years defending the program from lawsuits filed by yellow taxi titans, who believe the program infringes on their street-hail exclusivity.

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Today, Bloomberg argued that the need for the green taxis is evident in their apparent success.

“If there was ever a demand that showed itself when there was a little bit of supply, it is this,” said the mayor.

Since the city started licensing livery car drivers to become borough taxi drivers, borough taxis have provided 280,455 trips and driven nearly 900,000 miles. Passengers paid for a third of those trips using those newly installed credit card readers that are required in every borough taxi (along with meters and rooftop lights).

There are now about 1,000 borough taxis on the street. Six thousand have been licensed, and by March, once all of those have been repainted and outfitted with meters, credit card machines and rooftop lights, they will be on city streets.

The law allows another 6,000 permits to be issued next June and then another complement the following year.

A fifth of those cabs are required to be wheelchair accessible.

However, the ability of the program to move forward will depend on mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who has received more than $350,000 from the yellow taxi industry and has spoken, opaquely, about how the plan needs fixing.

De Blasio has also promised to fire David Yassky, the taxi commissioner despised by medallion owners for his efforts to change the industry.

And so this afternoon Yassky, clearly aware that his days are numbered, gave an impromptu valedictory address, thanking, among others, the guy running his licensing center, the guy running his enforcement division, his general counsel, his chief of staff, and his policy chief, for their hard work over the years.

“Last, I want to publicly thank you for the opportunity to serve," he said, to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg also gave Williamsburg Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a supporter of the taxi legislation in Albany, a speaking role, though he botched the introduction.

“And Assemblyman Joe Lhota, “said the mayor, confusing Lentol with the Republican candidate for mayor. "Joe?"

“Joe Lhota?” said Lentol.

“I didn’t say that," said Bloomberg. "Did I say that really?”

"It's OK," said Lentol. "It’s Lentol. It’s like Lhota. But only I’m a Democrat."

"Nice to know hizzoner's thinking about me," Lhota tweeted a couple hours later.

Lentol went on to speak of the borough taxi program in glowing terms.

"I’ve lived for a long time and never thought that my constituents would be able to hail a cab," he said.

In the ensuing question and answer session with reporters, WCBS's Rich Lamb asked if Bloomberg was at all concerned that under de Blasio, his borough taxi program would be rolled back.

"I have no idea," he said. "I can only tell you what we’ve done."

I asked if he had any particular thoughts about de Blasio's argument that the program undermines certain pieces of the existing taxi industry and therefore must be fixed.

"It’s not important what I think,” snapped Bloomberg.

“T-A-X-I is the ticker symbol,” he went on, referring for the second time to Medallion Financial Group, a company that underwrites million-dollar, yellow-taxi medallion transactions and opposed the plan. “Go and look it up. It’s up from $11 to $16. Fifty-plus percent. … The market tells you what’s really happening.”