Now that he has taken responsibility for remaking New York City’s taxi and livery industries, Gov. Cuomo needs to demonstrate that his plan can work before he and the Legislature write the overhaul into law.
Cuomo was widely hailed — pun intended — last week for devising a scheme that would:
add 2,000 yellow cabs, all capable of accommodating wheelchair passengers, to the fleet;
create a fleet of up to 18,000 livery cars that could legally cruise for curbside pickups outside the Manhattan business district, and
raise $1 billion for the city through the sale of taxi medallions.
The rub is that Cuomo has set conditions on achieving all those benefits. He insists that:
20% of the new street-hail liveries — 3,600 cars — must be wheelchair-accessible, and
the city must spend up to $54 million to help livery drivers pay for those expensive vehicles.
In other words, Cuomo will let Mayor Bloomberg reap $1 billion for cops, firefighters and teachers only if huge numbers of drivers dump their cheap cars to buy specially equipped high-cost vans with the $54 million in public aid.
This does seem a fantasy.
Roughly 23,000 livery cars provide taxi service in the vast stretches of the city — the boroughs and Manhattan above 96th St. — that have been abandoned by yellow cabs. They answer radio calls and are barred from picking up street hails — though they do so anyway 150,000 times a day.
Although the industry had been humming along for years, Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman David Yassky decided to force change after his wife griped about negotiating fares with drivers. She preferred that the cars have meters.
Then, Bloomberg announced he wanted to “equalize” taxi service across the city,
never mind that yellows and liveries operate under different sets of economics, practicalities and legalities.
Soon enough, the yellow cab industry rose to defend its monopoly. Just as quickly, advocates for the handicapped expanded to street-hail livery cars their legitimate demand, endorsed Friday by a federal judge, that yellows take wheelchairs.
So, in stepped Cuomo, who fashioned the plan outlined above. Question, governor: Have you ever ridden in a livery cab?
Most start out as used cars — worth, maybe, $10,000 each — then rack up hundreds of thousands more miles.
Given the fare structure, larger investments are generally out of the question.
Yet Cuomo theorizes that 3,600 drivers will pony up for $40,000 wheelchair-accessible vehicles if the city spends $15,000 a car to reduce the out-of-pocket cost. Leaving aside the question of whether taxpayers should shoulder that kind of expense, Cuomo’s numbers appear unworkable.
If that is correct, two results are possible:
One, the scheme will fail and the city will be denied $1 billion desperately needed to deliver basic services.
Two, livery car drivers will have to sock passengers with markedly higher fares.
Neither outcome would be acceptable. That’s why the governor must prove he knows what he is doing before proceeding further.
Until then, he should just stick with the law he signed last week that will allow 30,000 liveries to cruise for fares starting in two months and let the city pull in the $1 billion by auctioning 1,500 yellow medallions.