According to a report released in Jan. by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, NYC could add $80 million to its beleaguered budget and reduce gridlock by charging High Volume For-Hire Vehicle (HVFHV) companies – like Uber and Lyft – for all their empty vehicles cruising Midtown during rush hour, waiting for jobs to come in. The study, by transportation and traffic analyst Charles Komanoff, could also level the playing field for the troubled yellow taxi industry.

The report seeks to charge HVFHV companies – BUT NOT THEIR DRIVERS –an 11-cent per minute charge on driving without a customer during peak travel hours, and 5.5-cents during off-peak hours. The report also argues that the surcharge would reduce the presence of FHVs in the taxi zone by 10%. The revenue could add up to $80 million to city coffers.

HVFHV companies have exacerbated congestion across Manhattan’s main business district and require a new per-minute tax for driving without customers, according to the report, which was endorsed by City Council. Komanoff was commissioned by City Council in 2019 to come up with a solution for reducing the stockpile of unoccupied FHVs in the main taxi zone of Manhattan – one already congested by walking commuters, cyclists, bus lanes, and commercial loading zones.

“This charge on empty vehicle time would incentivize the companies to reduce their stockpiling of vehicles in gridlocked Manhattan and nudge ride-hail customers toward less-congesting modes of travel,” Komanoff said. “Stockpiling empty for-hire vehicles in Manhattan is a classic ‘externality’ that gives a slight convenience to Uber and Lyft customers by taking time and efficiency from the public. “The modest empty-vehicle charge proposed in the report is an equitable way to fix this imbalance.”

The punitive idle-driving policy suggested by Komanoff would not apply to yellow taxis, a group of drivers who have been devastated by an abrupt decline in consumer activity during the pandemic, after years of losing market share to the ever-expanding app-based industry. A rapid decline in the value of yellow taxi medallions also changed the fortune of a formerly stable industry, leaving many medallion owners and drivers wallowing in debt and despair.

New TLC documents provided to Crain’s under the Freedom of Information Law demonstrate the extent Uber and Lyft have expanded across New York City at the expense of yellow taxis. In 2017 alone, Uber cars traveled nearly 35 million miles across Midtown’s four transportation zones, including 8.4 million miles of cruising without passengers. Times Square’s Theater District saw 11.7 million miles of Uber traffic in 2017, while Washington Heights saw 6.5 million miles, Williamsburg saw 9.6 million miles, Astoria saw 4 million miles, and Clinton Hill and Clinton East saw 11.2 million miles.

Source: Crain’s New York Business

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