There isn’t enough green to go around for the green taxis introduced nearly a decade ago as a street-hailing option outside of central Manhattan — so the Taxi and Limousine Commission is phasing out the color.
In hopes of boosting passenger demand in neighborhoods traditionally underserved by yellow taxis, the TLC plans to test a new type of licensed for-hire vehicle that will no longer have the signature Granny Smith apple-colored look of the “Boro Taxis.”
Up to 2,500 permits are available to be re-issued as part of the pilot program, which will not employ metered trips or allow for street hails. Instead, the new rides must be booked through one of 450 TLC-affiliated livery bases, as detailed in a proposal posted to the commission’s website. The program also aims to cut costs for license-holders by eliminating the pricey green paint job, the meter, vehicle markings and the rooftop lights.
The move comes as the number of green taxis on city streets sunk in February to a new low of 891, TLC data shows. That’s an 86% drop-off from the peak in June 2015, when 6,539 of the green vehicles roamed the streets offering metered rides to street hails in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, The Bronx and and north of East 96th and West 110th streets in Manhattan.
The pilot program will allow up to 2,500 unused street-hail livery permits to be reissued for new-look vehicles that focus exclusively on pre-arranged trips. The vehicles can be any color except for green or “taxi yellow” and will feature what TLC calls “minimal required markings” to differentiate them from other for-hire vehicles.
David Do, the TLC commissioner, called the proposal “promising.”
“It is directly based on input from the industry and, provided that the commission votes in favor of moving forward, we’re excited to see what happens,” he said in a statement to THE CITY. “We’ll be tracking both the demand for these licenses and their resultant trip numbers very closely.”
Cira Angeles, a spokesperson for the Livery Base Owners Association, believes the pilot program could help with bases not having enough cars to meet demand.
“This is good for the passengers that are getting stranded and whose calls are going unanswered by the bases,” she told THE CITY. “This is good for the bases, it’s good for the drivers.”
While TLC said the pilot program does not directly impact the owners currently licensed to operate green taxis, those drivers said the changes point to some problems that have plagued the street-hail vehicles since they were introduced in 2013, including resistance from passengers to metered fares.
“You sometimes feel pressure from the passengers when they say, ‘Why are you turning on the meter?’” Rodney Villegas, a 43-year-old green taxi driver, told THE CITY as he waited for passengers outside the Harlem-125th Street Metro-North station. “I’ve even had riders get out of the car and say they’re not going to pay what’s on the meter.”
Green taxi driver Kwaku Amofa, 66, said he regularly encounters passengers who prefer not to pay metered rates.
“Some people ask you to turn it off, say, ‘Can we do a flat rate?’” Amofa said. “It’s a lot of pressure, but for me, I work on the meter.”
Angeles said the pushback to the meter stems from economic hardships in the neighborhoods where livery vehicles typically operate.
“You had a meter that basically gave the rates of the [central business district] and we don’t have the finances to do that in the boroughs,” she said. “People were scared of the meters and for drivers, [the meter] became more of a curse than an ability to pick up passengers.”
Green taxis began arriving on city streets in 2013, with nearly 5,000 in service by the following year, according to an analysis by THE CITY of TLC data. That figure has been in decline since 2015, as phone app-based services such as Uber and Lyft cut into demand.
“Uber redesigned the landscape,” Angeles said. “Maybe this [Boro Taxi] program had a chance, but the timing was terrible.”
TLC data shows there were 74,404 app-based for-hire vehicles in February — a 10% increase for the app-based ranks from one year earlier. In contrast, the number of street-hail liveries has continued to decrease.
Among those who quit was the first-ever green taxi driver, Nancy Reynoso, whose exit from the ranks of the green taxi drivers was chronicled by THE CITY in March 2022.
Reynoso questioned how the TLC’s new “street hail livery pilot program” can function when drivers with the new licenses won’t actually be allowed to pick up street hails.
“One of the things that broke me down was seeing how we were always at the bottom,” she told THE CITY on Sunday. “And if you can’t do a street hail, who is going to want to be a driver?”
The pilot program would not require livery vehicle owners to post a rate card, use a partition or have an in-vehicle camera system, unlike current green and yellow taxis. The cars in the new program, however, must be electric, hybrid or wheelchair accessible, according to the TLC.
Pilot participants will be able to submit applications to TLC starting May 16.
Angeles called the proposal “a step in the right direction” for bases serving neighborhoods in the outer boroughs and upper Manhattan.
“In the end, what we want to do is to continue to exist,” she said.