The ads are plastered on the back of hundreds of New York City buses, at driver’s-eye level: Join Uber, and make $35,000 in fares over the next six months. The on-demand taxi service is averaging 120,000 rides per day, and bent on increasing that tally by recruiting new drivers and customers. Indeed, for new drivers aiming to make their monthly quotas and earn that $35,000 payout, that daily ride average will almost surely have to keep climbing.
But members of the City Council have other ideas. With the support of the Taxi & Limousine Commission, they have proposed legislation that would limit the growth of Uber, Lyft, and their competitors while the commission investigates the impact of those services on traffic congestion. During the next 14 months, while research is under way, black and livery car bases with more than 500 vehicles–including Uber’s six bases, with their 26,000 total registered drivers–would be allowed only 1% growth.
“The idea here is to just hit the pause button to allow the study to be as accurate as possible,” commission spokesman Allan Fromberg says. More than 25,000 black and livery vehicles have entered the New York market since 2011–a possible reason, the commission hypothesizes, that Manhattan traffic speeds are down from 9.35 miles per hour to 8.51.
The two groups went head to head this afternoon. While Uber supporters took to the steps of City Hall, evoking populist motifs as they chanted refrains directed at Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration, company representatives sparred with members of the City Council’s transportation committee at the bill’s first public hearing.
At the rally, New York general manager Josh Mohrer–flanked by five dozen supporters in Uber T-shirts and baseball hats–emphasized the company’s outer-borough bona fides in his prepared remarks. “Every week, 25,000 New Yorkers take their first Uber ride,” Mohrer said. Most of that growth, he said, is outside of Manhattan, adding that 35% of Uber trips now originate in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. “To meet that growth, we need to add hundreds of drivers every week.”
Rivera Capellan is one of those new drivers, based in the Bronx. “I had a friend, he said it’s good,” Capellan says of his decision to switch from commercial driving to Uber. “You make your own schedule.” He joined two months ago and has been working six days a week, with Sunday reserved for family. Many of his pick-ups, he says, are in the Bronx.
Uber lost its last tussle with the commission. After months of legal back and forth over sharing its trip-level data, a court ruled in January that the company would have to report information such as ride duration and distance on a regular basis. The company has been operating in compliance with the ruling since then, despite what Mohrer describes as “ongoing privacy concerns.”