Cabbies Rally to Pressure Gov. Hochul Over Manhattan Toll Plan
Often pitted against each other, yellow taxi and app-service drivers came together Wednesday to call on Hochul to hit the brakes on congestion pricing fees.
Cabbies and drivers for ride-hailing apps, who have spent years dueling for passengers on city streets, on Wednesday found themselves aligned in asking the governor to spare them from additional congestion pricing fees.
The potential tolls — which aim to cut traffic in Manhattan’s “central business district” and raise billions of dollars for transit improvements — could tack up to $19 on passengers in every yellow taxi and for-hire vehicle trip south of 60th Street, according to a series of scenarios included in an environmental assessment released earlier this month.
At a New York Taxi Workers Alliance rally in front of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Midtown office, drivers for yellow taxis and app-based ride-hailing services called on Albany to exempt them from being tagged with more surcharges that are supposed to be a boon for the MTA, but which could take a heavy toll on drivers for hire.
“It’s not good for the drivers, because the prices are going to be up for the passengers,” said Harouna Cisse, 56, who has been driving five years for Uber after previously being a yellow taxi driver. “That’s bad news for all of us — yellow, Uber and Lyft drivers.”
THE CITY this week detailed the potentially crippling impact the new fees could have on the long-struggling taxi industry, as well as on drivers for the much larger for-hire vehicle business.
“The MTA has been broke since the day before I became a cab driver,” Jawaid Poppa, 55, a taxi driver for 27 years, told THE CITY. “And after 27 years, they’re still broke — we didn’t create their problems and their problems are not our problems.”
The rally united drivers who have long been on opposite sides, with the shrinking taxi business losing ground to tech companies like Uber and Lyft whose growth went unregulated for years.
But with the long-delayed congestion pricing proposal now beginning to take shape, the drivers found common ground in pushing back against potential fees that the report acknowledges could have an “adverse economic impact” on the taxi and for-hire vehicle (FHV) industry.
“We’re really outraged and disgusted by the money grab of the MTA that would lead to massive job losses for thousands and thousands of drivers in this city,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Drivers are facing down a barrel where your only choices are going to be: You either lose your lifetime job or you remain an indentured servant to the MTA.”
Transit advocates and some elected officials say that carving out more congestion pricing exemptions would work against the goals of raising billions for capital improvements to the regional mass transit system and clearing congestion on city streets.
Any additional exemptions, along with toll rates themselves, will ultimately be decided by a six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board. Members of the board have been asked to stay mum until after a series of public hearings this month, though board member Kathryn Wylde told NY1 in July that exemptions are “a bad thing, because it lets everybody game the system.”
And an MTA spokesperson said Wednesday that, over the last decade, “for-hire vehicles are a part of the story of congestion in Manhattan’s Central Business District,” with impacts on the air quality and the economy.
“Seven scenarios have been analyzed to reduce congestion, with a range of different approaches for taxis and for-hire vehicles,” the spokesperson, John McCarthy, said in a statement. “These scenarios are not being put forward by the MTA or anyone else at this stage as proposals, but public review and feedback is an important element of the Federal process.”
Hochul’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The first of six public hearings this month on the proposed tolling program is set for Thursday, Aug. 25.
The 2019 state law that led to the current version of congestion pricing made three categories of vehicles exempt from tolls: Emergency vehicles; those serving people with disabilities; and those belonging to families who live within the zone and earn less than $60,000 a year.
Taxi and FHV drivers said they are already doing their part by having generated what the Taxi and Limousine Commission said comes close to $2 billion in transit-related surcharges.
“People are on edge already,” Desai said. “And here’s the thing: drivers have been paying their fair share.”
Since 2019, those fees include a $2.50-a-trip congestion surcharge on every taxi south of 96th Street — and $2.75 for trips in green cabs and for-hire vehicles. Yellow taxis have also had a 50-cent-per-ride MTA surcharge since 2009.
“Even though we already have that $3 we’re already paying, the customers are still complaining about it,” said Luis Laurent, 65, a cabbie since 1988. “So if they raise it, they destroy the taxi industry.”
According to the environmental assessment released earlier this month, a possible option for cabbies squeezed out of work by congestion pricing is to become an MTA bus or paratransit driver. The report suggested creating a “direct pathway to licensing, training and job placement with MTA or its affiliated vendors at no cost to the drivers.”
“No,” said Cisse, the Uber driver who formerly drove a yellow taxi. “That’s not for me.”