Photo Credit: Flickr User b k - Used with a creative commons license

January 22, 2016
Inside City Hall’s “Uber Report”

When Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration released its long-awaited report on Uber and other taxi-like services on January 15, press attention centered on their potential contribution to traffic congestion in Manhattan. Yet the “For Hire Vehicle Transportation Study” contains solid policy recommendations that can help integrate these new services into New York’s broader for-hire-vehicle (FHV) and general transportation systems. The story does not end here, however. Each of the measures outlined below will require further state or city action to enact or implement.

  • Equalize contributions to the MTA between taxis and e-dispatch services  Since 2009, a 50-cent surcharge dedicated to the MTA has been collected from all yellow and green taxi trips. State legislation could extend the surcharge to other FHV fares. A bill recently introduced in Albany would not directly equalize the surcharge, but would instead provide 25 percent of sales taxes collected from e-dispatch-type fares to the MTA. This policy could yield less revenue for transit than a direct 50-cent charge on most FHV trips (specifically, those with base fares under $22.50). It’s possible the mayor will work with other legislators to introduce a bill consistent with the FHV report recommendation. The Citizens Budget Commission projects that the current taxi surcharge will generate $87 million for the MTA this year, but this amount is expected to fall as e-dispatch trips displace traditional taxi use in Manhattan.
  • New accessibility requirements Under current plans, developed in part due to court decisions requiring greater accessibility, the city’s yellow and green taxi fleets are adding wheelchair-accessible vehicles with the goal of becoming 50 percent accessible. The Taxi & Limousine Commission also requires that every livery car base have at least one accessible vehicle. The City’s report says it may pursue a “similar path”—presumably setting targets—to ensure accessibility within New York’s e-dispatch fleets. This may require City Council legislation, but could probably be accomplished without action from Albany. Additionally, the City Hall report says the city and MTA will work together to enhance Access-a-Ride service with wheelchair-accessible yellow and green taxis.  It’s unclear if a role is anticipated for e-dispatch companies in this regard. TransitCenter supports work by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation to develop stronger policy and model practices in this field.
  • Improved data-sharing  The report urges the city to “pursue a broader set of data reporting requirements for all FHV sectors” to inform enforcement and ongoing policy-making. The suggestion comes at a time when e-dispatch data remains largely proprietary–when FiveThirtyEight wrote a series of articles on Uber last fall, its reporting necessitated a Freedom of Information Law request. Changing this may require Council action. There is, however, some precedent. Officials in São Paulo recently struck a deal with Uber that permits the company to operate in parts of Brazil’s largest city. In exchange, Uber will provide the city government with comprehensive data about FHV rides.
  • Increased bus speeds The report presents the intriguing but very vague recommendation that the city “take steps to reverse the alarming recent decline in bus travel speeds.” The bus speed issue has been a persistent problem for New York–one that, given the multi-year decline in MTA bus ridership, commuters seem to be noticing as well. The report makes clear that FHVs are not a proximate reason for the decline. Building on this conclusion, TransitCenter and the NYU Rudin Center for Transportation are hosting a hackathon on March 5 to develop data-driven solutions to improving local bus service.  

The report also contains a welcome affirmation that pedestrian safety projects, bus lanes, bicycle lanes, and public plazas remain core elements in city street design policies. During last summer’s Uber-cap debate, some had pointed to bicycle lanes as a cause of congestion, which was followed by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton’s criticism of the public space in Times Square.

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