Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/710 Mon, 23 Jul 2018 11:40:04 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) For-Hire Companies Must Make Rides Accessible to All http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7734:for-hire-companies-must-make-rides-accessible-to-all http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7734:for-hire-companies-must-make-rides-accessible-to-all uberwav uber

(photo via Uber)


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.

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.

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.

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 “Left Behind,” 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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Justin Wood is Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (@NYLPI) and author of the “Left Behind” report.

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For-Hire Companies Must Make Rides Accessible to All Sun, 17 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Don’t Let Congestion Pricing Push Accessible Taxis Off the Road http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7532:don-t-let-congestion-pricing-push-accessible-taxis-off-the-road http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7532:don-t-let-congestion-pricing-push-accessible-taxis-off-the-road masud1

Masud Chowdhury, the author


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Don’t Let Congestion Pricing Push Accessible Taxis Off the Road Tue, 13 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The City’s Bogus Compromise with Uber Would Hurt Riders with Disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7362:the-city-s-bogus-compromise-with-uber-would-hurt-riders-with-disabilities http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7362:the-city-s-bogus-compromise-with-uber-would-hurt-riders-with-disabilities accessible cab

(photo via nyc.gov)


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Not so fast, though.

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.”

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.

I know that this proposal will not result in any meaningfully positive changes for wheelchair users like myself.

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.

In fact, it looks like this so-called pilot program would amount to little more than words.

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.

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.

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.

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Dustin Jones is president and founder of United for Equal Access New York, a disability advocacy group.

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The City’s Bogus Compromise with Uber Would Hurt Riders with Disabilities Sun, 10 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
As Cities Wrestle with the ‘Sharing Economy,’ A New Alliance http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6965:as-cities-wrestle-with-the-sharing-economy-a-new-alliance http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6965:as-cities-wrestle-with-the-sharing-economy-a-new-alliance alicia glen sharing cities summit

Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen (photo: @DMAliciaGlen)


City governments across the world are trying to adjust to and standardize their approaches to companies in the so-called sharing economy. With rapidly advancing technology, major financial investment, creative entrepreneurship, and little regard for the status quo, sharing economy companies -- such as Uber and Airbnb -- often catch government regulators unprepared and disrupt entrenched interests, leading to conflict. Government leaders are forced into difficult decisions, needing to balance embracing new economic opportunities, establishing the right regulatory framework, and protecting constituents.

A growing number and variety of emerging platforms in recent years highlighted the necessity to adjust existing regulations, reevaluate security measures and benefits for consumers and workers, and outline partnership frameworks between government and platform providers.

Software companies, government representatives, and gig economy experts gathered in mid-May in New York City for the 2017 Sharing Cities Summit -- “embracing and shaping the sharing economy” -- hosted by New York City Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen. Partially closed to the media, the gathering was framed as an opportunity for participants to discuss issues related to adapting to and embracing the sharing economy, in part through sharing experiences, and to come up with a set of guiding principles for cooperation.

The summit, which mostly took place over three days at the New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, addressed three key topics: “data collection and policymaking,” “consumer protection,” and “worker protection.” Its opening and closing sessions, which featured remarks by Deputy Mayor Glen, Amsterdam Deputy Mayor Kajsa Ollongren, an introduction to the topic by gig economy expert Arun Sundararajan, and others, were open to the media.

“I think that we need a common framework...to shape our approaches beyond just reacting to a single company, or even a sector,” said Glen, who oversees housing and economic development for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Working together we can expand our own knowledge of this transformation and send a very clear signal to the companies about what our expectations are.” For the sharing economy platforms, it would mean more predictability and less political risk when expanding to different cities and countries, she added.

“The cuddling phase of sharing is far behind us,” said Ollongren, of Amsterdam. “The issue is that there are new players out there,” she continued, “new business models, and our systems are old and not fit to deal with it.”

“Crowd-based capitalism”, another term for the sharing economy concept, is an emerging form of economic activity that will be “increasingly dominant” in the coming years and will overturn, at least in part, the “20th century industrial capitalism as a way of conducting business”, explained Sundararajan, who is a professor at the NYU Stern School of Business and author of the book “Sharing Economy.” This new economic model connects various service providers, or even a collective of individual service providers, to various consumers as opposed to established institutions with many employees supplying a product to customers, it has new intermediaries and shifts the basis of consumer trust. As one of the industry experts, Sundararajan gave a 20-minute overview of the concept and moderated a panel consisting of four sharing economy platform providers: Lyft, Postmates, Managed by Q, and Getaround, at the summit kick-off dinner.

Transportation and accommodations have become essential pieces of the “sharing economy,” which is often noted as a misnomer, given that money is typically exchanged. Other sectors include professional services, like consulting, and areas within the food sector. The sharing economy will affect the energy sector as well, Sundararajan added, explaining that as the batteries that preserve solar power improve, people will start accessing and redistributing energy locally, instead of sending it back to the grid. This may lead to new regulatory challenges for the energy sector in the future.

The sharing economy is blurring the lines between casual labour and professional work and changing the significance of what it means to have a job, Sundararajan said. But despite opportunities emerging thanks to the popularity of sharing economy platforms, there are downsides. For example, sometimes freelance workers have to deal with wage theft and misclassification by employers trying to avoid legal fees.

In the light of this trend, Deputy Mayor Glen highlighted the importance of further developing the concept of “portable benefits.” Now, when more and more people are tiling together their career mosaic, there is a necessity to “level the playing field” for them and find a way to provide adequate healthcare, pension, and other benefits, according to Glen.  

“The employment model that built economic security for many during the 20th century— often a unionized job that provided a pension, health benefits, Social Security, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance—has become increasingly out of reach,” a report published by the Roosevelt Institute indicates. Its authors, Rebecca Smith, Deputy Director of National Employment Law project, and Nell Abernathy, Vice President for Research and Policy at Roosevelt Institute, --- the latter participated on a summit panel -- identify three key measures to address the issue: “expand the public safety net, support new models of negotiated benefits, and ensure business and public funds supplement the contributions of workers and consumers.” The report was included in the list of references for summit participants, and also reviews possible funding options for portable benefits, such as public money, user fees, business and worker contributions.    

“One out of 20 people in New York City now hire somebody on a website to do basic things,” Deputy Mayor Glen said, ”that’s just the beginning of a major transformation.”

Glen, whose administration waged a losing battle against Uber in 2015, offered a few examples of situations in which the workers and the consumers may need protection. For example, ensuring that workers are compensated fairly. Here, for instance, she gave “positive credit” to TaskRabbit for removing a system of bidding on tasks from its platform and sticking to fixed hourly rates, because it helps prevent users from bidding themselves down, she mentioned. Another priority is to ensure both quality of service and safety for consumers. Considerations must be given to workers’ hours and benefits, liability and insurance, on-time payment, and more.

New York City recently passed the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which regulates the gig economy in the city, including mandates for contracts and payments. According to research published by City Council Member Lander, who sponsored the legislation, as of September 2016 over 70% of freelancers claimed to be victims of “wage theft or late-payment.”

The gig economy creates a vast amount of new data. “We’ve got this digital interface that is going to be be sitting between us and the things that we get,” Sundararajan said. Consequently, there is a need to figure out what to do with this data, how to regulate it and protect consumers, how the government should use it and collaborate with platforms to access it.

There are a few examples of how data exchange between sharing economy platforms and government could help improve citizen experience. For instance, in the beginning of 2017, New York City mandated Uber, Lyft and other for-hire car services share data on where drivers pick up and drop off passengers. Understanding how people move could potentially help the government improve the city’s transportation system, by identifying congested zones that are lacking enough public transport options, for example. This information will be in addition to other data already collected by the city.     

Another example is cooperation between the government of New Orleans and Airbnb that includes data sharing. The company supplies to the city the names and addresses of hosts. Airbnb came under fire in New York, where its ability to operate as it had been received a major blow through new state law cracking down on those posting illegal apartment rentals.

In light of the recent global cyber attack, protecting and regulating consumer data was also a topic highlighted repeatedly during the Sharing Cities Summit.

The forum served as the grounds for launching the Sharing Cities Alliance, an independent association headquartered in Amsterdam, that aims to bring together city leaders and sharing economy participants to exchange knowledge and data in the hopes of creating some shared principles and, possibly, regulatory frameworks. The five founding cities of the alliance are New York City, Amsterdam, Toronto, Copenhagen, and Seoul, according to a Twitter post by Deputy Mayor Glen.

Seoul was dubbed the world’s first “sharing city” by the alliance, thanks to the efforts of Mayor Park Won-soon and Seoul’s Metropolitan Government that launched the Sharing City Seoul initiative in 2012.

The Sharing Cities effort, as described on the website of the Alliance, includes a few milestones in its brief history. One is the Sharing Cities resolution signed by the United States Conference of Mayors in 2013 that promotes “better understanding of the Sharing Economy” and encourages creation of local task forces to establish regulations. Another is the launch of Amsterdam Sharing City in 2015.

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by Natalia Erokhina for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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As Cities Wrestle with the ‘Sharing Economy,’ A New Alliance Wed, 31 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Uber Scam Calls for Independent Monitor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6955:uber-scam-calls-for-independent-monitor http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6955:uber-scam-calls-for-independent-monitor uber protest

an Uber protest (photo: @CPIsd)


The following is an open letter from David Beier, president of the Committee for Taxi Safety to Commissioner Meera Joshi of the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission:

Dear Commissioner Joshi,

In light of Uber's admission that it has shortchanged New York City drivers by millions of dollars, we urge you to immediately appoint an independent monitor to ensure all drivers are paid fairly and determine whether they are owed any additional money. Failure to swiftly appoint such a monitor would leave thousands of working-class New Yorkers at risk of wage theft.

Uber claimed that its failure to adequately pay New York City drivers was the result of an accounting error, but that is hard to believe since the practice continued unchecked for more than two years. This is also not the first time that the company has wrongly deprived its drivers of wages. Uber shortchanged drivers nationwide by manipulating navigation data, according to a class action lawsuit filed last month. The company was also forced to pay back Wages to Philadelphia drivers after it made an "error' earlier this year.

These numerous cases of apparent wage theft show that Uber cannot be trusted to guarantee fair payment for its 50,000 New York City drivers. An independent monitor would address this problem by providing direct oversight to ensure that all drivers are paid in full and on time. Such a monitor should also be tasked with investigating whether Uber has withheld any other wages from its New York City drivers.

The de Blasio administration has acted aggressively to address and prevent wage theft in various industries across New York City. This matter should be treated no differently.

Very truly yours,
David Beier
President, Committee for Taxi Safety

On Twitter @CommTaxiSafety

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Uber Scam Calls for Independent Monitor Thu, 25 May 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Much Undecided, Last-Minute Frenzy Starts in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6396:last-minute-frenzy-in-albany-sets-table-for-final-negotiations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6396:last-minute-frenzy-in-albany-sets-table-for-final-negotiations albany leaders cuomo heastie flanagan et al

Albany leaders (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin, Governor's Office)


The pace has picked up dramatically in Albany, where lawmakers had avoided any major legislative decisions since passing the budget in April. With three days left in session, dozens upon dozens of bills are being introduced, amended, and passed at a fever pace. And while a couple of deals among the governor and legislative leaders have been announced on somewhat high-profile matters, thornier issues still remain unsettled and many bills are likely to only pass one house before lawmakers leave the capital.

On Monday, with session scheduled to end on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wrote the Legislature an open letter setting a list of his priorities - included on that list was reaching a deal on a package of legislation to combat heroin addiction; increasing breast cancer screening; passing government ethics reform; combating the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision; improving safety at rail crossings; and updating the state’s alcohol control laws.

In his letter Cuomo framed the situation in Albany as particularly tough because of the national political environment, failing to mention the federal investigation into state economic development programming that has dogged that his administration and the fallout from various legislative scandals, including the conviction on federal corruption charges of two recent legislative leaders. Cuomo praised the Legislature for the work it already did, calling this year’s “one of the best budgets in modern history”

Cuomo wrote: “But with all we have done, we have more to do. As the old skeptic’s adage goes, “That’s great, but what have you done for me lately?” We can’t rest on our laurels – we have much more to accomplish this session. Right now, we have a chance to complete an ambitious agenda that will conclude one of the most effective and successful legislative sessions to date while improving the lives of millions of New Yorkers.”

Major issues absent from Cuomo’s to-do list include renewing mayoral control of New York City schools, which is set to expire June 30; agreeing on how to spend $2 billion in state funds to create and preserve supportive and low-income housing; the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility; and a number of other priorities he touted in his State of the State Address in January.

By late Tuesday, Cuomo’s office had announced deals with the Legislature on three of the six items he outlined in his letter: rail safety; heroin addiction; and amending the state’s liquor laws.

The Senate showed some interest in moving on Cuomo’s push on Citizens United and independent expenditures as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan introduced a bill on the issue.

However, good government groups that gathered in Albany on Tuesday said they didn’t have much hope there would be any major action on government ethics reform this year. They largely scoffed at Cuomo’s targeting independent expenditures, saying that more money floods into New York’s elections through things like the LLC loophole and political party committees. Cuomo has backed changes to the LLC loophole and putting limits on how much cash party committees can take in, but he has done little this session to advance bills related to the issues.

“We’ve pleaded, we’ve talked rationally, we have pleaded with legislators and the governor’s office,” Barbara Bartoletti of The League of Women Voters told reporters. She said it is time for New Yorkers to vote out incumbents who don’t support ethics reform.

Meanwhile the houses of the Legislature have tried to come to deals on a bill that would allow for-hire vehicle services like Uber and Lyft to operate in New York State; a bill legalizing and regulating daily fantasy sports gambling; and one to allow online poker. All three may be stalling, though there is still time for negotiations.

The Republican-controlled Senate saw the introduction of two bills of particular interest to residents of New York City. One bill would extend mayoral control of New York City schools by three years, but would have enacted the education tax credit opposed by many Democrats. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan had previously said he would only support a one-year extension of mayoral control while Cuomo and Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have pressed for three.

Heastie rejected Flanagan’s proposal, telling reporters: “The Senate has the right to put in whatever bills they want to. I’ll be clear: Those proposals are a non-starter for us, so to me it was a waste of time to put those proposals in.”

A second straight one-year extension of mayoral control without anything else attached may be the best Mayor Bill de Blasio and his allies like Heastie can do.

The Senate also introduced a bill that would revive the controversial 421-a tax break for developers to build affordable housing, a program seen as key to the building of new affordable housing units in New York City. Heastie rejected the bill out of hand, union members have protested the bill did not have high enough wage standards. The program has been the subject of governmental and non-governmental negotiations for many months and there is no clear resolution at hand.

The fate of $2 billion set aside in the budget for supportive and affordable housing appears tied to the fate of 421-a, as Gotham Gazette reported on Monday. Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi told Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, "The money for supportive housing has been thrown into negotiations that have little to do with it or are tangentially related.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Much Undecided, Last-Minute Frenzy Starts in Albany Tue, 14 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6188:no-surprise-uber-drivers-are-protesting http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6188:no-surprise-uber-drivers-are-protesting taxi TLC

photo via the NYC TLC


Uber’s New York City drivers continued to rally against the company last week at City Hall — and it was no coincidence that recent reports show most Uber drivers don’t like their jobs.

In a new survey of Uber drivers published this month, less than half said they enjoy driving for Uber. Almost 40 percent of the drivers said they “strongly disagreed” or “disagreed” with the survey’s question about whether they were satisfied with Uber.

That survey included drivers from big cities across the country, but we know the major reason why New York Uber drivers are angry — 15 percent fare cuts that have made it impossible for them to make ends meet. Angry drivers here in the city have also called on Uber to stop taking a huge 20 to 25 percent cut of all their fares and add a tipping option to the app.

One might assume that a company that cares about its working-class drivers would take all these concerns seriously and address them immediately.

But Uber has shown its true colors by responding with a PR campaign aimed at convincing drivers that fare cuts are great and they should be happy with what they get.

That kind of callousness should offend all New Yorkers. We have all seen what it’s like to work for a rich company that cares more about the bottom line than the welfare of its workers. Uber’s disregard for its workers should also serve as an important reminder of why numerous driver protections — including strong wage protections — already exist in New York City’s taxi industry.

The fact is that industry regulations — developed over many years by government officials and medallion owners — ensure that taxi drivers never have to face the problems that are forcing Uber’s New York City drivers to protest and even go on strike.

No one can reduce a taxi driver’s fare because that is illegal. The government cannot take up to 25 percent of a taxi driver’s fares because that is illegal.

Additionally, the taxi industry encourages riders to tip generously by offering suggested tip amounts through the payment system mandated within each cab.

Taxi regulations are simple and straightforward. No one can blame Uber drivers for wanting the same protections in the workplace. But who should be blamed for the fact that those protections don’t exist?

The blame should really be shared between Uber and the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission - the latter has failed to address this and many other double standards that exist between Uber and the taxi industry.

Since Uber has shown it is unwilling to respect its working-class drivers, even as they continue to protest, the TLC has a moral and legislative duty to act by imposing real regulations that create parity between Uber and the taxi industry.

The TLC was created not only to protect the general public but all of its stakeholders, and over the past several years the TLC has vastly increased driver protections throughout the industry — except when Uber is involved. Uber continues to receive a pass from the TLC in avoiding all of its regulations, including fares, accessibility, driver protections, vehicle choice, branding of cars for public protection, paying a state tax to support the MTA, surge pricing, and more.

Until the TLC creates an even playing field for drivers, the public, and the rest of the for-hire industry, Uber drivers will continue to be dissatisfied and struggle to earn the money they need to support themselves. That’s no longer a claim — it’s a fact.

And as long as Uber ignores drivers and the TLC fails to solve the problem, there is always another option for angry Uber drivers. We would be happy to have them join the taxi industry and gain the same wage protections that yellow cab drivers have enjoyed for so many years.

It looks like the door to Uber’s front office is closed to workers. Ours is open.

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David Beier is the President of the Committee for Taxi Safety. On Twitter @CommTaxiSafety.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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No Surprise Uber Drivers Are Protesting Tue, 23 Feb 2016 05:00:00 +0000
What To Do When The L Train Closes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6129:what-to-do-when-the-l-train http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6129:what-to-do-when-the-l-train mta out of service

Out of service (photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)


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.

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 Senator Chuck Schumer’s request to expedite federal funding. 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 about 40 months.

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.

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.

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 built for streetcars.

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 odd subterranean mushroom park.

But if the real estate industry ever gets serious about funding a public-private waterfront streetcar 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.

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Alex Armlovich is a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute. On Twitter @aarmlovi.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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What To Do When The L Train Closes Mon, 01 Feb 2016 01:04:28 +0000
The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 11-15 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6093:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-11-15 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6093:the-week-that-was-in-new-york-politics-jan-11-15 week in review bus readers

photo: Stanley Kubrick via Museum of the City of New York


Gotham Gazette's Week in Review, Friday January 15

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Governor Cuomo gives his State of the State address, via the governor's office

andrew cuomo mario cuomo

TOP FIVE STORIES OF THE WEEK:

1. State of the State: Governor Andrew Cuomo delivered his combined State of the State and budget address on Wednesday. The plan has major infrastructure components to it as well as efforts to achieve social and economic justice, as the governor put it. Some of Cuomo’s 2016 “Built to Lead” agenda will place new financial strains on New York City, as the plan would end the state’s payment of some of the city’s Medicaid costs and change how CUNY is funded. Those changes and others are expected by some experts to cost the city $1 billion starting in the next fiscal year. In response, Mayor de Blasio has called the budget proposal “debilitating,” and said he would use “any means necessary” to restore the millions in state financing. Cuomo appeared to strike a conciliatory tone on Thursday, saying the city and state would work together to find Medicaid and CUNY efficiencies. [Read: Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget & Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions Of Follow Through]

2. Cuomo Cleared: On Monday, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announced there was not enough evidence to prove a federal crime in the investigation into Governor Cuomo’s interference with and closure of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

3. Gun Courts: On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio announced “Project Fast Track,” which aims to reduce gun violence in New York City through the creation of a new Gun Violence Suppression Division in the NYPD and by designating judges to fast-track illegal gun cases and resolve the cases within six months. [Read: City to Open Gun Courts to Expedite Prosecutions]

4. Spotlight on Sexual Assault: The alleged gang-rape in a Brownsville playground last Thursday, the rise in the number of reported rapes in 2015, and NYPD Commissioner Bratton’s suggestion that women going home late at night use the “buddy system” have led sexual assault to become the focus of public discussion this week. On Monday, lawmakers and advocates rallied outside City Hall to call for more legislation and resources to protect women from sexual assault. [Read: To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention & Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion]

5. 421-a, Uber, Carriage Horses: Negotiations between construction unions and real estate developers to extend the controversial 421-a development tax break are at a standstill, with both sides certain they will not reach an agreement by the Friday deadline to renew the program. Meanwhile, the city releases its long-awaited study of the for-hire vehicle industry, leading to little other than acknowledgement that the city is unlikely to pursue a cap to Uber’s growth. And, a deal on reducing horse carriages appeals imminent. [Read: Negotiations to Extend Important Affordable Housing Tax Break Said to Reach Impasse]

THIS WEEK’S NUMBERS:

  • $145 billion budget was laid out by Governor Cuomo during his annual state of the state and budget address.
  • $20 billion commitment to combat homelessness was announced by Governor Cuomo during the address, with $10 billion earmarked for 100,000 permanent affordable housing units and $10 billion for 6,000 new supported beds over 5 years, 1,000 emergency shelter beds, and other services, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • $1 billion is about how much experts estimate the changes in funding to CUNY and state payment of Medicaid costs will cost New York City starting in the next fiscal year, Capital New York reports.
  • 78.1% of public school students in New York graduated on time last june, up from 76.4% the previous year, marking an increase for the third year in a row, Gannett Albany reports. Meanwhile, the graduation rate in New York City crept above 70% for the first time.
  • 1,439 rapes reported in 2015, up 6.3% from 1,354 in 2014, Gotham Gazette reports.
  • 1.4 million New Yorkers - 16.5% of the population - are food insecure, Gotham Gazette reports.

THE GLORY AND THE GOAT:

It was a good week for Governor Andrew Cuomo, after he was cleared by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office in the investigation into his interference with the shutdown of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption.

It was a bad week for Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who came under fire for suggesting women should use the “buddy system” when coming home late at night to avoid becoming the victim of sexual assault. The NYPD has also been criticized this week for not notifying the public of the alleged gang rape in a Brownsville playground sooner.

THE FLASH:

Around this time 27 years ago, on January 13, 1989, subway gunman Bernhard Goetz was sentenced to a year in prison for possessing an unlicensed gun which he used to shoot four people he said were going to rob him.

Around this time 116 years ago, on January 10, 1900, bids went out for the construction of an underground railroad line running between City Hall and the Bronx. The city’s first subway opened four years later.

GOTHAM GAZETTE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK

Special Election Spotlights Machine Politics in The Bronx, by Gabe Ponce de León

To Combat Increase in Reported Rapes, Experts Point to Prevention, by Meg O'Connor

Cuomo Outlines $144 Billion Budget, by David Howard King

Cuomo Unveils Ethics Plan to Questions of Follow Through, by David Howard King

At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation, by Ryan Brady

New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants, by Samar Khurshid

Cuomo Heads Into State of the State After Big Announcements, With More to Say, by Ben Max

Assembly Democrats Reject Republican Rules Changes, Promise Own Proposals Soon, by David Howard King

Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It, by Ryan Brady

New York One Signature Away from Calling for Overturn of Citizens United, by Samar Khurshid

Sexual Assault Becomes Focus of Public Discussion, by Ben Max

To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy, by Meg O'Connor

Don't Be Seduced By Sexy Transportation Projects, by Philip M. Plotch and Nicholas D. Bloom (opinion)

A Case for None-Time-Limited Supportive Housing for Young Adults, by Colleen Jackson (opinion)

More Cities Should Do What States and Federal Government Aren't on Minimum Wage, by JoEllen Chernow (opinion)

MORE FOR THE WEEKEND:

Governor Andrew Cuomo sat down with NY1's Errol Louis for an interview Wednesday after laying out his vision for the year in his State of the State address.

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks discussed the ways the de Blasio administration is dealing with the homelessness crisis and the governor’s plans to audit the city’s shelter system with Errol Louis NY1.

Mary Brosnahan, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, talks about the new proposals for addressing New York City's homeless population on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC.

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NOTE TO READERS: we hope you enjoy this new Gotham Gazette weekly feature - please share it if you do; on Twitter, use our handle @GothamGazette.

If you have feedback on this feature for us, you can email editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com

Watch Sunday evening for our latest Week Ahead in New York Politics, which gives you a preview of key issues and events to be aware of for the week about to start. In the meantime, catch up on the latest original reporting from Gotham Gazette here. And have a great weekend!

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by Meg O'Connor and Ben Max

 

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The Week That Was in New York Politics, Jan. 11-15 Fri, 15 Jan 2016 19:44:06 +0000
City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5971:city-council-developing-new-protections-for-workers-in-gig-economy http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5971:city-council-developing-new-protections-for-workers-in-gig-economy lander car wash workers

Council Member Lander with carwash workers (photo: William Alatriste)


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.

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.

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 reports compiled by the Freelancers Union.

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.

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 campaign, seeking to raise awareness and push for legislation.

“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.

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.

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 “drivers benefit fund” 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.”

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.

Eyeing Seattle, where a City Council member is pushing a bill 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.

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.

Uber has added more than 20,000 cars to their service in the last three years and also handled more than 100,000 rides each day in July, four times its record from last year.  During a summer face-off between city lawmakers and Uber, the Mayor de Blasio and the City Council brought about a temporary detente 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.

An Uber representative declined to comment for this story.

The city’s efforts to create space for independent contractors to unionize may run up against federal law. The National Labor Relations Act of 1935 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.

A class-action lawsuit 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 have received class-action status. 

“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.

(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.)

The Council recently took controversial action to help car wash workers unionize, but that is being challenged in court.

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. 

“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.”

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.

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.

“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.”

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by Samark Khurshid
@GothamGazette

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City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy Wed, 04 Nov 2015 23:08:43 +0000