Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/lyft 2018-08-17T07:58:03+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com For-Hire Companies Must Make Rides Accessible to All 2018-06-17T04:00:00+00:00 2018-06-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7734:for-hire-companies-must-make-rides-accessible-to-all Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/uberwav-uber.jpg" alt="uberwav uber" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via Uber)</p> <hr /> <p>They may claim to be “doing the right thing” in their splashy campaigns, but for-hire-vehicle companies like Uber and Lyft are in New York courts right now fighting fairness -- when it comes to serving the city’s 99,000 wheelchair users.</p> <p>Whether you need to get to a job interview, a doctor’s appointment, or a dinner with friends, finding reliable and affordable transportation is a daily struggle if you use a wheelchair in New York City. The subway system -- with its tiny number of functioning elevators -- remains almost wholly inaccessible. Buses creep along, and the MTA’s paratransit system, Access-A-Ride, runs notoriously late and slow. The taxi industry offers a limited number of wheelchair-accessible vans with ramps (after years of litigation), and the number does not match the need. And in any case, cabs remain heavily concentrated in Manhattan and are extremely difficult to find in the outer-borough neighborhoods where many people with disabilities live.</p> <p>One might think that the giant for-hire-vehicle (FHV) industry would look to fill this urgent transportation need, but only two of the major companies -- Uber and Lyft -- even claim to offer wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) service, while Via, Juno, and Gett offer none at all.</p> <p>But, 70 percent of the time the WAV services offered by Uber and Lyft failed even to locate a WAV during our testing last month for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest’s report “<a href="http://www.nylpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Left-Behind-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Left Behind</a>,” in which we requested identical WAV and “regular,” non-WAV rides for the same time periods, at common locations such as JFK and LaGuardia airports, major medical centers, and Grand Central Station. To make matters worse, in the few instances when the smartphone platform apps did locate a WAV, the estimated wait time averaged four times as long as the wait time for inaccessible vehicles.</p> <p>In response to this blatant equal rights violation perpetrated throughout the city’s massive fleet of 100,000 for-hire vehicles, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) prepared a new rule requiring FHV operators, including “e-hail” operators such as Uber and Lyft, to incorporate a minimum number of WAVs into their fleets, starting with a minimal five percent this year, and increasing to a not-that-much-larger 25% percent by 2023.</p> <p>But instead of taking this opportunity to serve the public fairly, as required by law, Uber, Lyft, and Via are fighting the new provision in court, claiming that it will inflict “economic damage” on the massive industry. Even worse, the large for-hire-vehicle companies are doubling down on their discriminatory practices – they are now pushing a bill in the state Legislature that would entirely override the TLC’s authority to mandate more accessible vehicles and effectively create a separate and unequal FHV service for people with disabilities.</p> <p>Accompanying the mega-companies’ profit-driven objection is the unsubstantiated argument that individual drivers will not want to operate ramp-equipped wheelchair accessible vehicles, because they are more expensive to purchase and slower to operate. These arguments ring hollow. Uber, Lyft, and other FHV dispatch corporations are expert at offering an extensive menu of bonuses and incentives to drivers to ensure that there are ample drivers and vehicles available when and where the company wants them.</p> <p>For example, Uber’s website touts perks like $800 in guaranteed income for new drivers, immediate same-day sessions for new drivers to help “fast track” the TLC licensing process, and a range of vehicle rental, lease, and financing options for drivers who don’t own vehicles. Plenty of FHV drivers choose to drive large, inefficient SUVs and luxury vehicles (to the detriment of our local air quality and traffic congestion) because the company offers them incentives to do so -- and plenty would opt to drive accessible vehicles equipped with wheelchair ramps, if offered the right incentives.</p> <p>If these FHV e-hail corporations want to continue operating in our city (and clogging our streets with thousands of inaccessible vehicles), they should be required to harness their enormous resources to provide equal access to the thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities who most need their services.</p> <p>***<br />Justin Wood is Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (<a href="https://twitter.com/NYLPI" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYLPI</a>) and author of the “Left Behind” report.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/uberwav-uber.jpg" alt="uberwav uber" width="600" /></p> <p>(photo via Uber)</p> <hr /> <p>They may claim to be “doing the right thing” in their splashy campaigns, but for-hire-vehicle companies like Uber and Lyft are in New York courts right now fighting fairness -- when it comes to serving the city’s 99,000 wheelchair users.</p> <p>Whether you need to get to a job interview, a doctor’s appointment, or a dinner with friends, finding reliable and affordable transportation is a daily struggle if you use a wheelchair in New York City. The subway system -- with its tiny number of functioning elevators -- remains almost wholly inaccessible. Buses creep along, and the MTA’s paratransit system, Access-A-Ride, runs notoriously late and slow. The taxi industry offers a limited number of wheelchair-accessible vans with ramps (after years of litigation), and the number does not match the need. And in any case, cabs remain heavily concentrated in Manhattan and are extremely difficult to find in the outer-borough neighborhoods where many people with disabilities live.</p> <p>One might think that the giant for-hire-vehicle (FHV) industry would look to fill this urgent transportation need, but only two of the major companies -- Uber and Lyft -- even claim to offer wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) service, while Via, Juno, and Gett offer none at all.</p> <p>But, 70 percent of the time the WAV services offered by Uber and Lyft failed even to locate a WAV during our testing last month for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest’s report “<a href="http://www.nylpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Left-Behind-Report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Left Behind</a>,” in which we requested identical WAV and “regular,” non-WAV rides for the same time periods, at common locations such as JFK and LaGuardia airports, major medical centers, and Grand Central Station. To make matters worse, in the few instances when the smartphone platform apps did locate a WAV, the estimated wait time averaged four times as long as the wait time for inaccessible vehicles.</p> <p>In response to this blatant equal rights violation perpetrated throughout the city’s massive fleet of 100,000 for-hire vehicles, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) prepared a new rule requiring FHV operators, including “e-hail” operators such as Uber and Lyft, to incorporate a minimum number of WAVs into their fleets, starting with a minimal five percent this year, and increasing to a not-that-much-larger 25% percent by 2023.</p> <p>But instead of taking this opportunity to serve the public fairly, as required by law, Uber, Lyft, and Via are fighting the new provision in court, claiming that it will inflict “economic damage” on the massive industry. Even worse, the large for-hire-vehicle companies are doubling down on their discriminatory practices – they are now pushing a bill in the state Legislature that would entirely override the TLC’s authority to mandate more accessible vehicles and effectively create a separate and unequal FHV service for people with disabilities.</p> <p>Accompanying the mega-companies’ profit-driven objection is the unsubstantiated argument that individual drivers will not want to operate ramp-equipped wheelchair accessible vehicles, because they are more expensive to purchase and slower to operate. These arguments ring hollow. Uber, Lyft, and other FHV dispatch corporations are expert at offering an extensive menu of bonuses and incentives to drivers to ensure that there are ample drivers and vehicles available when and where the company wants them.</p> <p>For example, Uber’s website touts perks like $800 in guaranteed income for new drivers, immediate same-day sessions for new drivers to help “fast track” the TLC licensing process, and a range of vehicle rental, lease, and financing options for drivers who don’t own vehicles. Plenty of FHV drivers choose to drive large, inefficient SUVs and luxury vehicles (to the detriment of our local air quality and traffic congestion) because the company offers them incentives to do so -- and plenty would opt to drive accessible vehicles equipped with wheelchair ramps, if offered the right incentives.</p> <p>If these FHV e-hail corporations want to continue operating in our city (and clogging our streets with thousands of inaccessible vehicles), they should be required to harness their enormous resources to provide equal access to the thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities who most need their services.</p> <p>***<br />Justin Wood is Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (<a href="https://twitter.com/NYLPI" target="_blank" rel="noopener">@NYLPI</a>) and author of the “Left Behind” report.</p> <p>

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Don’t Let Congestion Pricing Push Accessible Taxis Off the Road 2018-03-13T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-13T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7532:don-t-let-congestion-pricing-push-accessible-taxis-off-the-road Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/masud1.jpg" alt="masud1" width="600" height="340" /></p> <p>Masud Chowdhury, the author</p> <hr /> <p>As a longtime yellow taxi driver, I was proud to be among the first to drive one of the city’s wheelchair-accessible taxis, which are equipped to serve New Yorkers with disabilities. There are now around 2,000 accessible yellow taxis in New York City as the industry continues striving to become 50 percent accessible by 2020.</p> <p>But it might be impossible for taxi drivers like me to keep our accessible vehicles on the road if we are hit with high fees under a congestion pricing system designed to raise funds for mass transit repairs. While the concept of congestion pricing is a good thing and more money must be generated for our subway system, the fact is that it would be unfair to target yellow taxis under such a program.</p> <p>The problem here is that state officials are in the process of considering potential congestion pricing plans that would treat taxis in the same way as app-based ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Although that might sound fair, in reality it is not fair at all.</p> <p>Yellow taxis have already contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to our subways and mass transit infrastructure, as well as providing an important source of accessible transportation. Uber and Lyft, both multi-billion-dollar companies, have done neither of these things – and any congestion pricing plan must hold these companies accountable without harming hardworking taxi drivers who are already doing the right thing.</p> <p>New Yorkers must remember that, since 2009, yellow taxis have been paying a 50-cent fee to the MTA on every single ride, generating significant revenue for mass transit. Uber and Lyft have refused to follow suit and instead pay sales tax, which does not provide nearly as much support to the subway system. In fact, MTA officials have acknowledged in the past that the rapid growth of app-based companies has deprived the state of funding that could have gone to support mass transit infrastructure.</p> <p>At the same time, while cabbies like me have put a great deal of effort into driving accessible taxis that are much costlier and more difficult to maintain, Uber and Lyft have done nothing to put their own accessible cars on the road. We are already bearing a heavy burden to provide this important service to thousands of wheelchair users – and these billionaire companies are not.</p> <p>And let’s be real – we all know these companies have been the much bigger driver of added congestion in New York City. Since 2013, the number of vehicles for Uber, Lyft and other similar companies has nearly doubled from 47,000 to more than 100,000 in 2017, while the yellow taxi industry remains capped at roughly 13,500 medallions.</p> <p>When you look at all the facts, there is simply no reason for state officials to even consider a congestion pricing plan that would treat taxi drivers like me the same as companies like Uber and Lyft. It wouldn’t just be unfair – it could make it even harder to keep costly accessible taxis on the road, and that would be a problem not just for me but for so many New Yorkers with disabilities.</p> <p>On behalf of other drivers feeling the same concerns, I sincerely hope that Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature will keep these important issues in mind and develop a congestion pricing framework that is fair to everyone on the road – including yellow taxis.</p> <p>***<br /> Masud Chowdhury drives a wheelchair accessible taxi. A yellow taxi driver for more than 20 years, he lives with his family in Ozone Park, Queens.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/masud1.jpg" alt="masud1" width="600" height="340" /></p> <p>Masud Chowdhury, the author</p> <hr /> <p>As a longtime yellow taxi driver, I was proud to be among the first to drive one of the city’s wheelchair-accessible taxis, which are equipped to serve New Yorkers with disabilities. There are now around 2,000 accessible yellow taxis in New York City as the industry continues striving to become 50 percent accessible by 2020.</p> <p>But it might be impossible for taxi drivers like me to keep our accessible vehicles on the road if we are hit with high fees under a congestion pricing system designed to raise funds for mass transit repairs. While the concept of congestion pricing is a good thing and more money must be generated for our subway system, the fact is that it would be unfair to target yellow taxis under such a program.</p> <p>The problem here is that state officials are in the process of considering potential congestion pricing plans that would treat taxis in the same way as app-based ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Although that might sound fair, in reality it is not fair at all.</p> <p>Yellow taxis have already contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to our subways and mass transit infrastructure, as well as providing an important source of accessible transportation. Uber and Lyft, both multi-billion-dollar companies, have done neither of these things – and any congestion pricing plan must hold these companies accountable without harming hardworking taxi drivers who are already doing the right thing.</p> <p>New Yorkers must remember that, since 2009, yellow taxis have been paying a 50-cent fee to the MTA on every single ride, generating significant revenue for mass transit. Uber and Lyft have refused to follow suit and instead pay sales tax, which does not provide nearly as much support to the subway system. In fact, MTA officials have acknowledged in the past that the rapid growth of app-based companies has deprived the state of funding that could have gone to support mass transit infrastructure.</p> <p>At the same time, while cabbies like me have put a great deal of effort into driving accessible taxis that are much costlier and more difficult to maintain, Uber and Lyft have done nothing to put their own accessible cars on the road. We are already bearing a heavy burden to provide this important service to thousands of wheelchair users – and these billionaire companies are not.</p> <p>And let’s be real – we all know these companies have been the much bigger driver of added congestion in New York City. Since 2013, the number of vehicles for Uber, Lyft and other similar companies has nearly doubled from 47,000 to more than 100,000 in 2017, while the yellow taxi industry remains capped at roughly 13,500 medallions.</p> <p>When you look at all the facts, there is simply no reason for state officials to even consider a congestion pricing plan that would treat taxi drivers like me the same as companies like Uber and Lyft. It wouldn’t just be unfair – it could make it even harder to keep costly accessible taxis on the road, and that would be a problem not just for me but for so many New Yorkers with disabilities.</p> <p>On behalf of other drivers feeling the same concerns, I sincerely hope that Governor Cuomo and the state Legislature will keep these important issues in mind and develop a congestion pricing framework that is fair to everyone on the road – including yellow taxis.</p> <p>***<br /> Masud Chowdhury drives a wheelchair accessible taxi. A yellow taxi driver for more than 20 years, he lives with his family in Ozone Park, Queens.</p> <p>

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The City’s Bogus Compromise with Uber Would Hurt Riders with Disabilities 2017-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-10T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7362:the-city-s-bogus-compromise-with-uber-would-hurt-riders-with-disabilities Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/accessible_cab.jpg" alt="accessible cab" width="600" height="309" /></p> <p>(photo via nyc.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>The hustle and bustle of New York is a part of its identity: we New Yorkers are always on the move. Our officials must fight for equal access to transportation, but as those of us with disabilities know, accessible methods of travel are shamefully limited. This is why the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has apparently been negotiating with private for-hire car companies like Uber and Lyft on the issue of wheelchair accessible taxis for several months.</p> <p>This could have been an encouraging sign, but last week, it became clear that TLC is more interested in cutting a backroom deal with Uber and Lyft than it is with seriously listening to wheelchair users. The TLC has even gone so far as to ignore sensible calls for action in favor of a proposal initiated by the very same companies who created this crisis.</p> <p>It has been clear that the city’s yellow taxi accessibility program is on the ropes – mainly because accessible taxis cost much more to operate and maintain than regular taxis. The TLC created the Taxi Improvement Fund (TIF), which takes 30 cents from each yellow cab ride to support drivers with accessible vehicles. But it has become increasingly clear to disabled riders that the current TIF program is not enough. Drivers are struggling to make ends meet, and the program is in danger of complete collapse.</p> <p>That is why I have called upon the TLC to mandate that ride-hail companies, including multi-billion dollar giants like Uber and Lyft, contribute to the TIF. Since these companies have proven to less than friendly to disabled riders, they should have to pay a higher fee.</p> <p>This plan is simple and effective. The TIF is a city fund overseen by the city, rather than a state tax, so this tweak wouldn’t require any changes to state law or any approval from state officials. (For some reason, the TLC recently tried to convince me that it would require state approval, but that is just not true.) Not only is it easy to implement, but this proposal would provide critical support for the drivers who need it most and help wheelchair users navigate the city.</p> <p>It is a win for all stakeholders. Elected officials get an easy fix to a critical problem, cab drivers already doing the right thing get support they need, and New Yorkers with disabilities get greater transportation access.</p> <p>Not so fast, though.</p> <p>The TLC is considering a proposal – one that originated with Uber, Lyft and other for-hire vehicle providers themselves – that would create a two-year pilot program allowing companies who opt in “to provide accessible service via a central dispatch system.”</p> <p>The currently-negotiated plan is that companies would provide accessible vehicles to riders who request them in under 15 minutes, 60 percent of the time in the first year and 80 percent in the second.</p> <p>I know that this proposal will not result in any meaningfully positive changes for wheelchair users like myself.</p> <p>Despite from the fact that these companies have a track record of promoting falsehoods when it comes to accessibility and have frequently avoided actually putting accessible vehicles on the road, there is nothing in this proposal to hold them accountable.</p> <p>In fact, it looks like this so-called pilot program would amount to little more than words.</p> <p>This potential compromise also does nothing to solve the TIF crisis and would likely lead to the end of the city’s accessible taxi program. This outcome would leave the many riders who depend on wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the hands of private companies, who, at the very best, would only promise to provide a car within 15 minutes 60 percent of the time.</p> <p>In a city with a terrible track record on wheelchair accessibility – have a look around any subway station – ceding this ground is an unacceptable outcome that will leave New Yorkers with disabilities without a reliable method of transportation.</p> <p>That is an outrage. Fortunately, a sensible solution is out there – but it is up to the TLC to do the right thing, and the time is now.</p> <p>***<br />Dustin Jones is president and founder of United for Equal Access New York, a disability advocacy group.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/accessible_cab.jpg" alt="accessible cab" width="600" height="309" /></p> <p>(photo via nyc.gov)</p> <hr /> <p>The hustle and bustle of New York is a part of its identity: we New Yorkers are always on the move. Our officials must fight for equal access to transportation, but as those of us with disabilities know, accessible methods of travel are shamefully limited. This is why the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has apparently been negotiating with private for-hire car companies like Uber and Lyft on the issue of wheelchair accessible taxis for several months.</p> <p>This could have been an encouraging sign, but last week, it became clear that TLC is more interested in cutting a backroom deal with Uber and Lyft than it is with seriously listening to wheelchair users. The TLC has even gone so far as to ignore sensible calls for action in favor of a proposal initiated by the very same companies who created this crisis.</p> <p>It has been clear that the city’s yellow taxi accessibility program is on the ropes – mainly because accessible taxis cost much more to operate and maintain than regular taxis. The TLC created the Taxi Improvement Fund (TIF), which takes 30 cents from each yellow cab ride to support drivers with accessible vehicles. But it has become increasingly clear to disabled riders that the current TIF program is not enough. Drivers are struggling to make ends meet, and the program is in danger of complete collapse.</p> <p>That is why I have called upon the TLC to mandate that ride-hail companies, including multi-billion dollar giants like Uber and Lyft, contribute to the TIF. Since these companies have proven to less than friendly to disabled riders, they should have to pay a higher fee.</p> <p>This plan is simple and effective. The TIF is a city fund overseen by the city, rather than a state tax, so this tweak wouldn’t require any changes to state law or any approval from state officials. (For some reason, the TLC recently tried to convince me that it would require state approval, but that is just not true.) Not only is it easy to implement, but this proposal would provide critical support for the drivers who need it most and help wheelchair users navigate the city.</p> <p>It is a win for all stakeholders. Elected officials get an easy fix to a critical problem, cab drivers already doing the right thing get support they need, and New Yorkers with disabilities get greater transportation access.</p> <p>Not so fast, though.</p> <p>The TLC is considering a proposal – one that originated with Uber, Lyft and other for-hire vehicle providers themselves – that would create a two-year pilot program allowing companies who opt in “to provide accessible service via a central dispatch system.”</p> <p>The currently-negotiated plan is that companies would provide accessible vehicles to riders who request them in under 15 minutes, 60 percent of the time in the first year and 80 percent in the second.</p> <p>I know that this proposal will not result in any meaningfully positive changes for wheelchair users like myself.</p> <p>Despite from the fact that these companies have a track record of promoting falsehoods when it comes to accessibility and have frequently avoided actually putting accessible vehicles on the road, there is nothing in this proposal to hold them accountable.</p> <p>In fact, it looks like this so-called pilot program would amount to little more than words.</p> <p>This potential compromise also does nothing to solve the TIF crisis and would likely lead to the end of the city’s accessible taxi program. This outcome would leave the many riders who depend on wheelchair-accessible vehicles in the hands of private companies, who, at the very best, would only promise to provide a car within 15 minutes 60 percent of the time.</p> <p>In a city with a terrible track record on wheelchair accessibility – have a look around any subway station – ceding this ground is an unacceptable outcome that will leave New Yorkers with disabilities without a reliable method of transportation.</p> <p>That is an outrage. Fortunately, a sensible solution is out there – but it is up to the TLC to do the right thing, and the time is now.</p> <p>***<br />Dustin Jones is president and founder of United for Equal Access New York, a disability advocacy group.</p> <p>

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What To Do When The L Train Closes 2016-02-01T01:04:28+00:00 2016-02-01T01:04:28+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6129:what-to-do-when-the-l-train Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24560963766_a421b18d43_z.jpg" alt="mta out of service" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Out of service (photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)</p> <hr /> <p>The denizens of Williamsburg and Bushwick have responded to news of potential multiyear L train closures with a mix of shock, despair, and irritation. People are talking through the alternatives: taking the G, J, and M trains; boarding the East River Ferry; or even (gasp!) riding the bus. Quite likely Williamsburgers will also summon a swarm of UberPools and Lyft Lines unlike any seen in our time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hysterics aside, it’s unlikely that the MTA would do a full, year-long double-tube shutdown. The most plausible plan is a long series of “nights and weekends” shutdowns for tube repairs, with the possibility of a brief total closure of both tubes to finish them “Fastrak”-style while rehabs of the 1st Avenue and Bedford stations and additional electrical substations are built. The latter service upgrades, which would permanently boost the line’s peak-hour capacity by 10 percent (a big deal for a subway line often at “crush” capacity during rush hour), depend on the timely success of <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2016/01/8587710/schumer-asks-feds-prioritize-l-train" target="_blank">Senator Chuck Schumer’s request to expedite federal funding</a>. Nothing is certain until the upgrade funding comes through, but some Sandy-related stretch of nights-and-weekends closures is sure to come, as the MTA’s initial bid requests describe a contract lasting <a href="http://www.subchat.com/read.asp?Id=1331886" target="_blank">about 40 months</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">If the MTA does indeed briefly close both tunnels—or even just one at a time—what should be done to limit the carnage? First, carpool restrictions (HOV-2, or even HOV-3) on the Williamsburg Bridge during train closures—just like during transit strikes and natural disasters. Previous nights-and-weekends closures of the L have brought “Carmageddon” to the bridge, especially during UberPool and Lyft Line promotions. Ensuring that solo drivers don’t hog every lane is a surefire way to keep everyone moving.</p> <p dir="ltr">I personally remember the bridge congestion during the UberPool $2.75-a-ride L train closure special, as it was both the first time I shared an UberPool and the first time I rode with a carsick middle-aged woman being ill out the back window into the East River.</p> <p dir="ltr">So to minimize the stop-and-go, nausea-inducing congestion—and maximize the potential efficiency of ridesharing services—the city should cooperate with the MTA in implementing HOV restrictions on the bridge, and even dedicating a lane to shuttle buses and the B39. It’s not at all radical to take away a car lane for more efficient transportation modes: The Williamsburg Bridge was <a href="http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/abandoned/WillB.extphoto.gif" target="_blank">built for streetcars</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">This potential L train crisis is a reminder that better transit redundancy plans are needed for high-volume chokepoints, even if they inconvenience a comparatively small number of drivers. A truly radical long-term proposal would involve permanently replacing some car lanes with transit-only lanes and re-opening the abandoned streetcar terminal under Essex Street on the Manhattan side of the bridge. Current proposals include replacing the terminal with an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#photo-1" target="_blank">odd subterranean mushroom park</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">But if the real estate industry ever gets serious about funding <a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/07/31/is_it_maybe_possibly_actually_time.php" target="_blank">a public-private waterfront streetcar</a> through Williamsburg, perhaps restoring the rail lanes to the old streetcar terminal could be added to the plan. No matter what the MTA decides, the coming L train closures are an opportunity to start getting creative with our transportation systems and our waterfront. Let’s hope at least some of these mitigation proposals get a serious hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Alex Armlovich is a policy analyst at <a href="https://www.manhattan-institute.org/" target="_blank">the Manhattan Institute</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/aarmlovi">@aarmlovi</a>.</p> <p>

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<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24560963766_a421b18d43_z.jpg" alt="mta out of service" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Out of service (photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)</p> <hr /> <p>The denizens of Williamsburg and Bushwick have responded to news of potential multiyear L train closures with a mix of shock, despair, and irritation. People are talking through the alternatives: taking the G, J, and M trains; boarding the East River Ferry; or even (gasp!) riding the bus. Quite likely Williamsburgers will also summon a swarm of UberPools and Lyft Lines unlike any seen in our time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hysterics aside, it’s unlikely that the MTA would do a full, year-long double-tube shutdown. The most plausible plan is a long series of “nights and weekends” shutdowns for tube repairs, with the possibility of a brief total closure of both tubes to finish them “Fastrak”-style while rehabs of the 1st Avenue and Bedford stations and additional electrical substations are built. The latter service upgrades, which would permanently boost the line’s peak-hour capacity by 10 percent (a big deal for a subway line often at “crush” capacity during rush hour), depend on the timely success of <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2016/01/8587710/schumer-asks-feds-prioritize-l-train" target="_blank">Senator Chuck Schumer’s request to expedite federal funding</a>. Nothing is certain until the upgrade funding comes through, but some Sandy-related stretch of nights-and-weekends closures is sure to come, as the MTA’s initial bid requests describe a contract lasting <a href="http://www.subchat.com/read.asp?Id=1331886" target="_blank">about 40 months</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">If the MTA does indeed briefly close both tunnels—or even just one at a time—what should be done to limit the carnage? First, carpool restrictions (HOV-2, or even HOV-3) on the Williamsburg Bridge during train closures—just like during transit strikes and natural disasters. Previous nights-and-weekends closures of the L have brought “Carmageddon” to the bridge, especially during UberPool and Lyft Line promotions. Ensuring that solo drivers don’t hog every lane is a surefire way to keep everyone moving.</p> <p dir="ltr">I personally remember the bridge congestion during the UberPool $2.75-a-ride L train closure special, as it was both the first time I shared an UberPool and the first time I rode with a carsick middle-aged woman being ill out the back window into the East River.</p> <p dir="ltr">So to minimize the stop-and-go, nausea-inducing congestion—and maximize the potential efficiency of ridesharing services—the city should cooperate with the MTA in implementing HOV restrictions on the bridge, and even dedicating a lane to shuttle buses and the B39. It’s not at all radical to take away a car lane for more efficient transportation modes: The Williamsburg Bridge was <a href="http://www.columbia.edu/~brennan/abandoned/WillB.extphoto.gif" target="_blank">built for streetcars</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">This potential L train crisis is a reminder that better transit redundancy plans are needed for high-volume chokepoints, even if they inconvenience a comparatively small number of drivers. A truly radical long-term proposal would involve permanently replacing some car lanes with transit-only lanes and re-opening the abandoned streetcar terminal under Essex Street on the Manhattan side of the bridge. Current proposals include replacing the terminal with an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#photo-1" target="_blank">odd subterranean mushroom park</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">But if the real estate industry ever gets serious about funding <a href="http://gothamist.com/2015/07/31/is_it_maybe_possibly_actually_time.php" target="_blank">a public-private waterfront streetcar</a> through Williamsburg, perhaps restoring the rail lanes to the old streetcar terminal could be added to the plan. No matter what the MTA decides, the coming L train closures are an opportunity to start getting creative with our transportation systems and our waterfront. Let’s hope at least some of these mitigation proposals get a serious hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Alex Armlovich is a policy analyst at <a href="https://www.manhattan-institute.org/" target="_blank">the Manhattan Institute</a>. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/aarmlovi">@aarmlovi</a>.</p> <p>

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City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy 2015-11-04T23:08:43+00:00 2015-11-04T23:08:43+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5971:city-council-developing-new-protections-for-workers-in-gig-economy Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lander_car_wash_workers.jpg" alt="lander car wash workers" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Council Member Lander with carwash workers (<a href="https://twitter.com/willalatriste/status/573135755742203904" target="_blank">photo</a>: William Alatriste)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There are more than 1.3 million freelancers working in New York City and with the help of the City Council, these workers may soon be afforded certain protections on par with full-time workers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Initially focused on wage protection and health benefits, Council members and advocates are also looking at legislation to expand collective bargaining rights to certain groups of workers in the “gig” economy.</p> <p dir="ltr">The on-demand economy of such workers has mushroomed in the city with Uber and Lyft drivers, Handy.com cleaners, and the more traditional writers, graphic designers, and other artists. These temporary, “for-hire” workers largely perform their various efforts without the benefits of job security, health insurance, pension buy-in, or paid sick leave. Even their wages are regularly not guaranteed. Eight out of ten freelancers have complained of being victims of late payment or non-payment of wages according to <a href="https://fu-web-storage-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/pdf/nonpayment-factsheet.pdf" target="_blank">reports</a> compiled by the Freelancers Union.</p> <p dir="ltr">With the City Council aggressively tackling workforce issues, Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who represents part of Brooklyn, has taken the lead in developing legislation to help people in the gig economy.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander is working with the New York City-based Freelancers Union to create a legislative framework for wage protection for freelance employees. In September, He appeared at a Brooklyn town hall hosted by the Freelancers Union to launch the #FreelanceIsntFree <a href="https://www.freelancersunion.org/advocacy/" target="_blank">campaign</a>, seeking to raise awareness and push for legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It has very real dark sides to it,” Lander said in a recent phone interview with Gotham Gazette, referring to freelancing and the company payment cycles that cause hardships for freelancers. “The rent is due and you still gotta put groceries on the table,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander believes that the best possible scenario would be a “cutting edge,” enforceable administrative solution, similar to protections guaranteed by the state Department of Labor and the Attorney General. Currently, the only legal recourse freelancers have is civil court, an expensive and time-consuming option. Lander wants to introduce a bill within the next two months.</p> <p dir="ltr">But worker protections go beyond simply wages and Lander has found support from his colleagues for other ideas. Lander and Council Member Corey Johnson are working closely with the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance on a <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/how-to-build-the-movement-for-progressive-power-the-urban-way/" target="_blank">“drivers benefit fund”</a> that would use a small fare surcharge to provide health benefits to for-hire drivers. After wage protections for freelancers, drafting this legislation is Lander’s next priority; and with the city looking at rules reform for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, he said this “is a good time to move it forward.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Inevitably, workforce issues revolve in some important way around organized labor. On-demand gig workers are by their very nature unorganized. That’s where the Freelancers Union stepped in and now the City Council is moving toward creating new worker protections.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eyeing Seattle, where a City Council member is <a href="http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-lawmaker-plans-to-help-for-hire-drivers-unionize/" target="_blank">pushing a bill</a> to allow taxi drivers, for-hire drivers, and those from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to unionize and exercise collective bargaining, Lander is considering a similar path in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Uber’s success in the city, and its disruption of the long-standing taxi/black car marketplace, has garnered the for-hire industry new attention. The ability for drivers, who are seen as independent contractors, to unionize would change the game for thousands, and the company, of course.</p> <p dir="ltr">Uber has added more than 20,000 cars to their service in the last three years and also <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-logs-major-gains-in-new-york-city-figures-show-1445821132" target="_blank">handled</a> more than 100,000 rides each day in July, four times its record from last year. &nbsp;During a summer face-off between city lawmakers and Uber, the Mayor de Blasio and the City Council brought about a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/nyregion/de-blasio-administration-dropping-plan-for-uber-cap-for-now.html" target="_blank">temporary detente</a> by landing on a four-month study of the effects of ride-sharing companies like Uber (and no cap on the growth of the industry). The results of that study are due soon and will likely play an important role in the future of ride-sharing in the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">An Uber representative declined to comment for this story.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city’s efforts to create space for independent contractors to unionize may run up against federal law. The <a href="https://www.nlrb.gov/resources/national-labor-relations-act" target="_blank">National Labor Relations Act of 1935</a> protects the right of employees to collectively bargain with their employers. It lays down specific definitions for employees and employers which could preempt local jurisdictions from taking action since independent contractors do not qualify under the law’s criteria.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-appeals-class-action-ruling-for-drivers-suit-1442362190" target="_blank">class-action lawsuit</a> brought by three drivers in California against Uber highlights this basic issue. The drivers are arguing for benefits as employees of the company while Uber maintains they are independent contractors who are not eligible for these benefits, and therefore should not <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/436820824/california-court-grants-uber-drivers-class-action-status" target="_blank">have received</a> class-action status.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">“Seattle’s leading the way,” said Council Member Lander. The proposed legislation in Seattle would create a precedent and likely face numerous legal challenges. Lander recognizes this fact. Even though the NLRA preempts the City Council from legislating, he believes there is room for cities to take action for workers not covered under the federal legislation. Currently there is no draft legislation but Lander said any proposal would attempt to protect workers across the on-demand economy and not just specific companies.</p> <p dir="ltr">(He also talked of changes to the city’s human rights laws to clarify the workers covered. He said this could happen in the next few months after these initial bills.)</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council recently took controversial action to help car wash workers unionize, but that is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/19/nyregion/carwash-owners-in-new-york-sue-city-over-unionization-rules.html?_r=0" target="_blank">being challenged in court</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member I. Daneek Miller is firmly in support of any proposal that would help on-demand drivers organize. As a former labor union leader, Miller’s perspective on the issue is decidedly pro-labor, and his position as chair of the Council's civil service and labor committee puts him at the front lines in addressing it.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">“The whole concept of the shared economy has to be put into perspective,” Miller told Gotham Gazette. “I don’t think it’s a sustainable model.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He said the “irony” of the situation is that the shared, gig economy is contributing to its own demise and disempowerment -- a younger generation with few responsibilities finds flexibility and mobility attractive and then later on when people want security, they find themselves left out in the cold.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the system to work, he said, there need to be checks and balances in the form of collective bargaining and the right to organize.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m less inclined to create public policy legislation around this,” he said about the issue of unionization, perhaps recognizing the challenges involved. “We’ll let them do their job and give them the tools to support them. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of organized labor.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samark Khurshid<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/lander_car_wash_workers.jpg" alt="lander car wash workers" width="600" height="429" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Council Member Lander with carwash workers (<a href="https://twitter.com/willalatriste/status/573135755742203904" target="_blank">photo</a>: William Alatriste)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There are more than 1.3 million freelancers working in New York City and with the help of the City Council, these workers may soon be afforded certain protections on par with full-time workers.</p> <p dir="ltr">Initially focused on wage protection and health benefits, Council members and advocates are also looking at legislation to expand collective bargaining rights to certain groups of workers in the “gig” economy.</p> <p dir="ltr">The on-demand economy of such workers has mushroomed in the city with Uber and Lyft drivers, Handy.com cleaners, and the more traditional writers, graphic designers, and other artists. These temporary, “for-hire” workers largely perform their various efforts without the benefits of job security, health insurance, pension buy-in, or paid sick leave. Even their wages are regularly not guaranteed. Eight out of ten freelancers have complained of being victims of late payment or non-payment of wages according to <a href="https://fu-web-storage-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/pdf/nonpayment-factsheet.pdf" target="_blank">reports</a> compiled by the Freelancers Union.</p> <p dir="ltr">With the City Council aggressively tackling workforce issues, Council Member Brad Lander, a Democrat who represents part of Brooklyn, has taken the lead in developing legislation to help people in the gig economy.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander is working with the New York City-based Freelancers Union to create a legislative framework for wage protection for freelance employees. In September, He appeared at a Brooklyn town hall hosted by the Freelancers Union to launch the #FreelanceIsntFree <a href="https://www.freelancersunion.org/advocacy/" target="_blank">campaign</a>, seeking to raise awareness and push for legislation.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It has very real dark sides to it,” Lander said in a recent phone interview with Gotham Gazette, referring to freelancing and the company payment cycles that cause hardships for freelancers. “The rent is due and you still gotta put groceries on the table,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lander believes that the best possible scenario would be a “cutting edge,” enforceable administrative solution, similar to protections guaranteed by the state Department of Labor and the Attorney General. Currently, the only legal recourse freelancers have is civil court, an expensive and time-consuming option. Lander wants to introduce a bill within the next two months.</p> <p dir="ltr">But worker protections go beyond simply wages and Lander has found support from his colleagues for other ideas. Lander and Council Member Corey Johnson are working closely with the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance on a <a href="http://www.thenation.com/article/how-to-build-the-movement-for-progressive-power-the-urban-way/" target="_blank">“drivers benefit fund”</a> that would use a small fare surcharge to provide health benefits to for-hire drivers. After wage protections for freelancers, drafting this legislation is Lander’s next priority; and with the city looking at rules reform for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, he said this “is a good time to move it forward.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Inevitably, workforce issues revolve in some important way around organized labor. On-demand gig workers are by their very nature unorganized. That’s where the Freelancers Union stepped in and now the City Council is moving toward creating new worker protections.</p> <p dir="ltr">Eyeing Seattle, where a City Council member is <a href="http://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-lawmaker-plans-to-help-for-hire-drivers-unionize/" target="_blank">pushing a bill</a> to allow taxi drivers, for-hire drivers, and those from ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft to unionize and exercise collective bargaining, Lander is considering a similar path in New York.</p> <p dir="ltr">Uber’s success in the city, and its disruption of the long-standing taxi/black car marketplace, has garnered the for-hire industry new attention. The ability for drivers, who are seen as independent contractors, to unionize would change the game for thousands, and the company, of course.</p> <p dir="ltr">Uber has added more than 20,000 cars to their service in the last three years and also <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-logs-major-gains-in-new-york-city-figures-show-1445821132" target="_blank">handled</a> more than 100,000 rides each day in July, four times its record from last year. &nbsp;During a summer face-off between city lawmakers and Uber, the Mayor de Blasio and the City Council brought about a <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/23/nyregion/de-blasio-administration-dropping-plan-for-uber-cap-for-now.html" target="_blank">temporary detente</a> by landing on a four-month study of the effects of ride-sharing companies like Uber (and no cap on the growth of the industry). The results of that study are due soon and will likely play an important role in the future of ride-sharing in the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">An Uber representative declined to comment for this story.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city’s efforts to create space for independent contractors to unionize may run up against federal law. The <a href="https://www.nlrb.gov/resources/national-labor-relations-act" target="_blank">National Labor Relations Act of 1935</a> protects the right of employees to collectively bargain with their employers. It lays down specific definitions for employees and employers which could preempt local jurisdictions from taking action since independent contractors do not qualify under the law’s criteria.</p> <p dir="ltr">A <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/uber-appeals-class-action-ruling-for-drivers-suit-1442362190" target="_blank">class-action lawsuit</a> brought by three drivers in California against Uber highlights this basic issue. The drivers are arguing for benefits as employees of the company while Uber maintains they are independent contractors who are not eligible for these benefits, and therefore should not <a href="http://www.npr.org/2015/09/02/436820824/california-court-grants-uber-drivers-class-action-status" target="_blank">have received</a> class-action status.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">“Seattle’s leading the way,” said Council Member Lander. The proposed legislation in Seattle would create a precedent and likely face numerous legal challenges. Lander recognizes this fact. Even though the NLRA preempts the City Council from legislating, he believes there is room for cities to take action for workers not covered under the federal legislation. Currently there is no draft legislation but Lander said any proposal would attempt to protect workers across the on-demand economy and not just specific companies.</p> <p dir="ltr">(He also talked of changes to the city’s human rights laws to clarify the workers covered. He said this could happen in the next few months after these initial bills.)</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council recently took controversial action to help car wash workers unionize, but that is <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/19/nyregion/carwash-owners-in-new-york-sue-city-over-unionization-rules.html?_r=0" target="_blank">being challenged in court</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member I. Daneek Miller is firmly in support of any proposal that would help on-demand drivers organize. As a former labor union leader, Miller’s perspective on the issue is decidedly pro-labor, and his position as chair of the Council's civil service and labor committee puts him at the front lines in addressing it.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">“The whole concept of the shared economy has to be put into perspective,” Miller told Gotham Gazette. “I don’t think it’s a sustainable model.”</p> <p dir="ltr">He said the “irony” of the situation is that the shared, gig economy is contributing to its own demise and disempowerment -- a younger generation with few responsibilities finds flexibility and mobility attractive and then later on when people want security, they find themselves left out in the cold.</p> <p dir="ltr">For the system to work, he said, there need to be checks and balances in the form of collective bargaining and the right to organize.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m less inclined to create public policy legislation around this,” he said about the issue of unionization, perhaps recognizing the challenges involved. “We’ll let them do their job and give them the tools to support them. We’ve got our finger on the pulse of organized labor.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samark Khurshid<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>