RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Companies like Uber and Lyft have transformed the way people get from point A to point B, especially in cities. But in this country's biggest city, New York, these ride-sharing services have faced a lot of resistance. Yesterday, the New York City Council passed legislation putting a cap on the number of new vehicle licenses that would limit the growth of these app-based vehicles for a year. We've got reporter Stephen Nessen from New York member station WNYC on the line to talk about this. Hey, Stephen.
STEPHEN NESSEN, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: So I thought New York City tried something like this not that long ago - limiting the number of these vehicles, didn't they?
NESSEN: Right. Back in 2015, it was Mayor Bill de Blasio who was pushing for a cap on Uber. He was saying the company's growth was out of control, it was contributing to congestion and that the city needs to study what's going on. By the way, that's the same argument now. He was met with a wave of opposition from users and a million-dollar ad blitz from the company. Uber even put a feature on the app called de Blasio mode that made most of the cars on the app disappear to show what would happen if this bill passed. It did not.
Now, things are a little different. There have been six driver suicides - taxi driver suicides this year. One driver killed himself in front of City Hall and wrote a note citing the economic hardship in this industry where drivers can no longer make a living. It's not a middle-class job. In addition to stiff competition from ride-hailing apps, the value of those taxi medallions used to be a million dollars, now they're little more than $200,000. A lot of drivers took out hefty loans to pay off those medallions, to buy those medallions, but now they're struggling to pay the loans and pay their own bills, quite frankly.
And this bill came out of the City Council, like you said. And many of the individuals that were pushing it do receive donations from unions in the taxi industry, which have an interest in protecting drivers. Let's hear from the head of the City Council, Corey Johnson. He's the one that really spearheaded these bills.
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COREY JOHNSON: We have seen the real human effects on all drivers and on the city as a whole. We've tried to come up with what we think is a fair, rational, sound public policy solution to this.
NESSEN: I should say the mayor has indicated that he does intend to sign the bills into law.
MARTIN: Yeah. OK, so you talk about the fact that taxi drivers, there have been these suicides, which is horrific. But can you expand a bit, Stephen, on why there's not enough competitive space for taxis and Uber or Lyft or ride-sharing? I mean, why is it so hard to make a living as a taxi driver in New York?
NESSEN: Well, all for-hire vehicles in New York, whether it's Uber or Lyft or if you're affiliated with a traditional base that dispatches drivers, needs to get a license from the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission. They give it to everyone that applies. So this bill that passed the council would stop the issuing of new licenses for one year.
The council wants to use that time, they said, to study the industry. They say with 2,000 new cars getting licenses every month, it's impossible to know what the dynamic is when it's constantly changing. Now they say they'll be able to look at quarterly reports on traffic, wages, where people are getting in and out of cars. And they say after a year, they'll reassess this cap, see if there's a better piece of legislation that might reduce congestion and ensure that there's still enough cars for people to get them when they want them.
MARTIN: But, I mean, this is just basic capitalism, right? Like, if Uber and Lyft and other services have just found out a better way to provide the services - this service - and users prefer it, doesn't this mean taxis just need to figure out a way to compete?
NESSEN: Yes. Well, Uber and Lyft argue - well, taxis argue it's not fair. Uber and Lyft are the two biggest apps in the city, and they're certainly not happy about this. And they're arguing that there's going to be unintended consequences, like people are going to end up waiting longer for cars.
The council argues that if that's an issue, they're going to adjust their cap to allow for more cars in neighborhoods where there's a shortage. Uber says, doesn't matter, they have a way around this anyway. They're going to figure out a way to get the licensed vehicles that go unused each day to reach drivers who can drive them, figure out how to get those cars on the road.
As far as other cities - you know, New York is unlike any other city in the market. And Seattle is certainly going to be looking at it - at New York because they've tried to unionize ride-hailing apps and improve working conditions. So they're going to check in and see how we're doing this.
MARTIN: Stephen Nessen from member station WNYC in New York talking about the City Council. They're passing legislation to put a cap on ride-sharing app services. Stephen, thanks so much.
NESSEN: Thank you.
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