A series of protests against the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA’s) recent announcement detailing plans for a Congestion Pricing fee closed out August with a rally hosted by the Justice for App Workers (JFAW) coalition. Held outside MTA headquarters on Aug. 31, the group demanded the agency, Governor Hochul, and State lawmakers “stop targeting hard-working immigrant drivers who are already paying their fair share in congestion taxes and struggling to get by with low wages and rising expenses.”

More than 23,000 for-hire vehicle (FHV) drivers have submitted comments to the MTA and hundreds testified at a series of virtual hearings held by the MTA over what is being described as “a devastating second tax” on trips into Manhattan below 60th Street (omitting F.D.R. Drive and the West Side Highway).

Advocacy groups and transportation providers also joined ranks in a coalition that includes The Black Car Fund, Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC), Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), Livery Roundtable, Livery Base Owners, Uber, Lyft and Revel. According to Ira Goldstein, executive director of the Fund and BCAC, the groups are working toward a common goal: To save a struggling industry in the face of an apocalyptic fee that could put tens of thousands out of work.

“Everyone has their own messaging but we all seem to be on the same page… leave the $2.75 alone; we are already contributing that money, which comes out to a projected $350-385 million annually going forward,” he noted.

“Whatever good intentions may be motivating this project – intentions the Black Car Fund shares – the [Environmental Assessment Report] suffers from at least one fatal flaw: it fails to seriously engage with and mitigate the harmful effects that the proposed tolling schemes will impose on FHV drivers,” Goldstein stated at an MTA hearing. “That failure is not only a blow to the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of drivers, it ignores this agency’s own directives that a project’s harms to an environmental justice population – like the drivers – must be mitigated to the extent practicable or the project cannot move forward. As it stands now, the Environmental Assessment does not take adequate account of the mitigation measures it is obligated to consider.”

We knew congestion pricing was coming, that had been made clear. But no one thought it could turn out this potentially devastating to the TLC-regulated industries. Industries, by the way, that have already paid close to $2 billion in transit-related surcharges to the MTA – kicking in between $2.50 and $2.75 per ride for years, according to TLC data. On top of that, the MTA now wants to add between $9 and $23 per trip, depending on peak or off-peak hours, up to four times in a day. If I’ve learned anything in the past decade it’s that worst case scenarios are often the most likely ones – and $23 up to four times a day is utter insanity.

“The app companies take a huge cut of our earnings. We pay for car maintenance, gas, and insurance, and the city keeps piling all these fees on us. There are other ways for the city to get their money,” said Naomi Ogutu, President of NYC Rideshare Club and Co-Chair of the JFAW.

Prior to their August 31 rally, Justice for App Workers members were stationed outside MTA headquarters for a full week, educating drivers and riders about the significant impact of congestion pricing on drivers’ wages and access to affordable rides for low-income and outer borough customers. The coalition includes the NYC Rideshare Club, Black Car Mafia, UzBER, IDG, Long Island Uber and Lyft Network, NYC Drivers Unite, UTANY, International Alliance of Delivery Workers, and United Delivery Workers Association.

“We want our customers to know that this tax is a lose-lose. Drivers would lose our livelihoods, and riders who rely on us would be stranded,” said Sonam Lama, member of JFAW coalition group, the IDG. “If the MTA thinks we’ll take this lying down, they’re wrong!”

“The MTA should be ashamed of themselves! Why are immigrants, people of color, poor, and working-class folks the only ones being asked to pay two congestion fees?” asked IDG organizing director, Aziz Bah in prepared testimony. “Why is it that our investments, livelihood and mental health matter less than others and are in fact offered to be sacrificed over other business and environmental interests? Do the benefits you seek to achieve with congestion pricing really outweigh the utter devastation that will be brought upon our communities, our children and our families?”

“The MTA should leave the one tax status quo in place for the for-hire vehicle drivers and reassess in a few years,” added IDG President, Brendan Sexton. “Let’s see what happens when everyone else starts to pay their fair share.”

The IDG launched a petition calling for Governor Hochul and the MTA to exempt FHVs from this additional congestion tax. Please sign and share the petition, which can be found at DriversGuild.org/tax.

Exemptions are already planned for emergency vehicles, people with disabilities, and residents who live in the congestion district who earn up to $60,000 annually, but the MTA is arguing that more exemptions mean other drivers will have to pay more. That’s not exactly comforting to people the city has been squeezing for years.

According to the IDG, the congestion tax proposal comes as FHV drivers are already in economic crisis, hit hard by the pandemic, and stuck with car payments and insurance bills they are struggling to pay. As business slowly began to return, drivers have struggled to make ends meet amid unprecedented gas prices and expenses. In a recent survey of more than 1,000 rideshare drivers, IDG found that:

  • Nine in ten FHV drivers are unable to afford basic living expenses.
  • Nearly 80% of drivers have trouble paying their rent or mortgage.
  • Two thirds of drivers have trouble making car payments, paying credit card bills and affording vehicle insurance.
  • More than half of the drivers polled struggle to afford food.
  • Nearly 75% of drivers have children to support with their earnings.

The MTA estimates the proposed congestion tax would reduce taxi and FHV trips to and from the Central Business District by as much as 40%, devastating more than 100,000 New Yorkers who make their living as drivers. This should serve as a call to arms for all drivers, base owners and advocates for the affected segments of the industry. There will be more opportunities to have your voices heard in the coming year, and it’s important to take advantage of as many of them as you can. Please email any comments you would like included in an upcoming issue directly to me at neil@blackcarnews.com.

Article by Neil Weiss

Neil Weiss is the Editor/Publisher/Owner of Black Car News and Livery Times. He has been involved in the ground transportation industry since 1991, writing thousands of articles on a wide variety of subjects.

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