As discussions continue over how much – or even whether – drivers licensed by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) will have to pay for congestion pricing, it has become ever-more-clear that the various segments of the industry benefit greatly by standing together. Building alliances and capitalizing on the power that 100,000 drivers can wield will be essential to the future health of NYC transportation, whether you prefer picking up hails in a yellow taxi, transporting corporate clients in a black car, serving community transportation needs in a livery or providing white-glove service in a luxury vehicle.
Creating stability and reducing stress for TLC-licensed drivers are also important pieces of the puzzle, according to Tony Georgiton, vice president of Queens Medallion Leasing (QML) – who, in a partnership with Marblegate Asset Management, started the Taxi Clubhouse in Manhattan (161 West 22nd), where TLC-licensed drivers can unwind in a massage chair, squeeze in a stress-relieving workout, pray in peace, grab a cup of coffee or a bite to eat, or use the restroom.
To celebrate the Clubhouse’s six-month anniversary, QML and Marblegate held their first-ever “Taxi Driver Appreciation Day” in July. In attendance were TLC Commissioner David Do, the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance, Memorial Sloan Kettering (who provided health screenings), New York Legal Assistance Group and Raja Foods.
A new Clubhouse Council was also launched in July, creating an advisory board “where drivers will have the opportunity to build community and discuss ideas for programming to enhance the driver experience.”
In addition to the looming congestion pricing fee, Georgiton blames overly-restrictive rules and laws for creating additional major hurdles to a return to normalcy: “We need more drivers, but it’s not easy to attract new blood in this environment,” he noted. “Before Covid, there were 20,000 yellow taxi drivers. Now we have half that many.”
Georgiton is hoping to work with the TLC to restart job fairs for licensees and would like to see the agency ease restrictions that prevent able-bodied, qualified people from joining NYC’s transportation industry.
“Anyone with a valid driver’s license for three years should be able to at least get a temporary license from the TLC, like they had back in the 90s,” Georgiton explains. “Unemployment is still high in NYC, and there’s so much opportunity in our industry. After years of neglect and turmoil, the yellow taxi industry is finally regaining ground and medallion prices are on the rise. It’s a great time to get in.”
Among the other issues drivers currently face are predatory interest rates, a hack-up system that needs an overhaul and new WAV taxi requirements that will dramatically drive up costs, Georgiton says: “The base amount for a WAV taxi in 2016 was about $36,000,” he says. “The new Toyota Sienna is double that amount, and it’s pricing people out of the market. We need lower-priced options… it’s a ticking time bomb. The TIF on WAVs is currently $14,000. The TLC should raise that amount to level out the total cost.”
QML and Marblegate aren’t the only soldiers in the battle to bring equity and stability back to an industry that continues to struggle from a laundry list of complicated issues. Organizations like The Black Car Assistance Corporation have been leading the charge to inform legislators and regulators about the complications a once-a-day congestion pricing fee that could be as high as $23 could potentially cause. The group is advocating for either a full exemption for TLC-licensed drivers or to have a small addition to the existing congestion fee, along with parity for every segment of the industry.
The Independent Drivers Guild is also working with several other industry groups – including the Justice for App Workers – to take their message to MTA’s Traffic Mobility Review Board, which met for the first time in July to discuss pricing structures and exemptions. Outside the meeting, the growing coalition – which represents New York’s immigrant communities – rallied in protest, waving signs and chanting, urging MTA Review Board members to block the regressive new proposal, calling any new fees incurred by drivers a “double tax.”
“We are out here today because the solution for congestion in our streets is not for individual rideshare drivers in New York to shoulder the financial burden instead of the app companies themselves,” saidNaomi Ogutu, President of the NYC Rideshare Club and Co-Chair of the Justice for App Workers coalition. “Drivers have been paying a nearly $3 congestion tax since 2019 on every ride we give into Manhattan south of 96th street since 2019, which have generated billions of dollars in revenue in the past four years. We cannot afford to shoulder more of this burden.”
A letter released in July, signed by a number of lawmakers – including state Sen. Julia Salazar and Assembly Member Robert Carroll – echoed the sentiments of industry leaders and drivers. “We write to you as strong proponents of the (congestion pricing plan) and look forward to doing our part to support the program’s successful implementation,” the letter reads. “However, we are concerned that the goals of the program… may not be met unless the toll structure put in place addresses the proliferation of … (companies) like Uber and Lyft.”
The letter also called on the Traffic Mobility Review Board to recommend removing the once-a-day congestion fee on FHVs in favor of a higher surcharge on trips south of 96th Street, with discounts for overnight trips – further proof that advocating, protesting and recognizing the essential need to improve the lives of the hard-working drivers in our industry is having a real effect.
I urge all drivers to keep up the fight to have their voices heard. Join one of the many industry associations looking out for your best interests and provide work only for companies that support your financial, health and personal needs.