NYC Taxi Operators Say Mayor De Blasio Has Capitulated to Uber

  • Medallion owners protest rules for wheelchair-accessible cabs
  • Uber says the protestors want to stifle competition for rides

The last time New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tangled with Uber Technologies Inc. and other mobile-device ride-hailing companies, a campaign against his policies to limit their growth forced him to back down.

Now, taxi medallion owners, who in 2013 were part of an industry that gave him hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations, say de Blasio is betraying them. At issue is a requirement that at least half of the city’s traditional yellow cabs be wheelchair-accessible by 2020. Those models are more expensive.

The rules, established in a court-approved settlement and enforced by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, also require 30 percent of green cabs -- which operate in upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs -- to serve wheelchair users. Companies such as Uber and Lyft Inc., regulated under different rules, are exempt from the requirement.

“City regulators bowed and scraped before the multi billion-dollar corporate predators, allowing them to abide by their own rules,” Satwinder Singh, president of the Taxi Medallion Owners and Drivers Association, said during a protest Wednesday at City Hall, which drew about 80 supporters. “Why should Uber be allowed to flood the city with 33,000 cars and not have a single accessible vehicle?”

De Blasio’s battle with Uber last year left him politically wounded, after he tried to limit the growth of electronic-hail cars while the city would study their impact on congestion in midtown Manhattan. The mayor backed down after the company ran a multi million-dollar television and social-media ad campaign accusing him of taking jobs from immigrants, whom the mayor has considered part of his political base. 

This time, the mayor hasn’t sought concessions from Uber or anyone else in the electronic-hail ride business.

“We are committed to ensuring accessibility in all sectors of the for-hire-vehicle market,” said mayoral spokesman Austin Finan.

Allan Fromberg, spokesman for the taxi-regulating agency, said it is working on rules he declined to describe in detail, which he said would “bring accessibility to that sector so that all New Yorkers can enjoy an accessible ride.”

The traditional taxi and limousine industry gave de Blasio’s 2013 mayoral campaign more than $500,000, and an additional $150,000 to City Council members.

The mobile-device hailing ride industry has disrupted the traditional taxi business to the point where a medallion to operate a yellow cab has dropped in price to about $400,000, from about $1 million in the past three years, said Richard Lipsky, a spokesman for Taxis for All, the group that organized the City Hall demonstration.

Medallion Financial Corp., a public company specializing in taxi medallion financing, has seen its stock price drop to $7 Wednesday from $17.74 on Nov. 29, 2013.

Matthew Wing, a spokesman for Uber, said the company is already serving the disabled through a program he called UberWAV, with which riders can connect to wheelchair-accessible vehicles that aren’t affiliated with Uber, linked through their mobile-device application. He accused the medallion owners of trying to stifle competition.

“They are paying lobbyists to create sham advocacy organizations that disparage our accessibility option,” Wing said in an e-mail.

Joe Rappaport, a spokesman for Taxis for All, a coalition of disabled-advocacy groups, said the rules should apply to Uber, Lyft and other mobile-hailing ride companies

“These companies already have requirements for the vehicles their drivers purchase; it would be easy for them to require that a certain percentage meet standards for handling wheelchair-using customers,” Rappaport said.

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