As the taxicab industry continues to struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the popularity of apps like Uber, New York City’s City Council has proposed a bill that would require the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to establish a universal e-hail app.
The app would give riders the ability to order any for-hire vehicle from a single app, including taxis and cars that typically drive Uber and Lyft. The bill was introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan). It’s similar to the one he pitched in 2014 before Uber became the most popular ride-hail option in the city.
According to NY Daily News, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft were getting three times the rides as yellow and green taxis before the pandemic. As of September, those companies were getting more than eight times the rides. The overall goal of the bill is to even the playing field.
At the moment, only a small fraction of yellow taxi trips are completed via apps. Kallos believes the technology has matured enough in the last six years to develop a universal e-hail app: “When I raise my hand on the street, I don’t care what yellow cab company stops for me. I just want a cab. People should be able to raise their hand digitally and get a response from anyone. […] And every driver could compete regardless of what company they drive for. It gives drives a way to cut out the middleman of Uber and Lyft and go directly to the consumer.”
If the bill passes, the city will establish and run an open software language to let vendors build apps that hail taxis and other for-hire vehicles. The technology would also allow yellow and green taxis to be ordered through Uber’s app.
Cab drivers who own taxi medallions have been looking for relief for years. In 2012, yellow taxi medallions sold for more than $1 million. Since then, their value has fallen to less than $250,000 since Uber and Lyft began to dominate the city’s ride-hailing market. As a result, the plummeting price has left thousands of taxi drivers with serious financial troubles.
Bhairavi Desai, a co-founder of the Taxi Workers Alliance, believes the app is needed and wants the city to help struggling cabbies refinance their medallions by guaranteeing up to $125,000 if a medallion owner defaults on loan payments or faces disclosure: “What the yellow cab and green cab sectors can do at this point is have exclusive street hail rights, and use the e-hail app as a supplement to that. But I can’t emphasize enough that unless debt forgiveness is addressed and prioritized first and foremost, nothing else will matter.”