The taxi industry and Mayor Bill de Blasio were caught off guard last year when an administration proposal to cap the number of for-hire vehicles ran into an Uber-orchestrated public relations buzz saw. Determined not to be outgunned again, disability advocates, yellow-cab operators and others are planning their own campaign starting in June to press for regulatory “parity” between taxis and app-based ride-hail companies like Uber.
The organizers will also take a page from Uber’s book and seek to show that cab owners are not wealthy operators who want to stifle innovation to enrich themselves, but hard-working, largely immigrant New Yorkers—similar to the drivers Uber said would have been hurt by the mayor’s cap.
“This conception that the taxi industry is [run] by elite individuals—it’s not that way,” said Brad Gerstman, a lobbyist and spokesman for New Yorkers for Equal Transportation Access, the group that is leading the effort. “The single-medallion owner is the lifeblood of the yellow-taxi business.”
Gerstman said the coalition will include owner-drivers, taxi fleet owners, black-car operators and the credit unions that finance medallion purchases.
The group is shooting videos of medallion owners who are worried about the loss their investment has taken as venture capital-backed services including Uber and Lyft have grabbed market share from yellow cabs.
The campaign will begin with a “pep rally” of medallion owners early next month and include lobbying of City Council members to require ride-hail vehicles to follow the same wheelchair-accessible standards as yellow cabs. It will conclude with a rally outside City Hall at the end of June.
Half of all taxis will soon have to accommodate wheelchairs, while none of the more than 20,000 Uber-affiliated cars—or any black cars, for that matter—in New York City do. Various other regulations apply only to taxis, which medallion owners say puts them at a disadvantage. Taxis have the exclusive right to pick up street hails, but the city lets black cars pick up ready-to-travel passengers who hail them via smartphone apps, and legal challenges by medallion lenders have failed to disallow the policy.
The anti-Uber group is also pushing for another congestion study—presumably one that will pressure lawmakers to cap ride-hail vehicles. A report that came out in December—and which was criticized in some quarters for letting Uber off the hook—found that for-hire cars were only one of several factors contributing to the decrease in traffic speeds.
Previously, Uber had beaten back the proposed one-year growth cap with a strategic communications campaign portraying its drivers as hard-working New Yorkers of diverse backgrounds. In the absence of any messaging from anti-Uber forces, the argument resonated with some City Council members, and the council leadership canceled plans to vote on the proposal.
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