Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/710 Tue, 23 Jul 2019 09:39:38 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Former City Taxi Commissioner on Regulating the App Companies and Saving the Yellows https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8521-former-city-taxi-commissioner-on-regulating-the-app-companies-and-saving-the-yellows https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8521-former-city-taxi-commissioner-on-regulating-the-app-companies-and-saving-the-yellows Meera Joshi taxis

Meera Joshi, right, at a rally (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)


Meera Joshi’s five-year tenure as the head of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission coincided with a tumultuous time for the industry she was tasked with overseeing and regulating. Joshi, who left the de Blasio administration in March, joined the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Citizens Budget Commission and Gotham Gazette to discuss her tenure, the taxi industry and key steps she spearheaded to regulate it, and what’s next for app-based for-hire vehicle companies like Uber and Lyft.

The introduction and explosion of those ride-hailing apps has shaken the overall for-hire vehicle industry, disrupting the traditional taxi sector in New York City and beyond, and creating new challenges in terms of street congestion, driver working conditions, and more. In two years, the number of for-hire vehicles in New York City grew 59% and they now outnumber yellow and green taxi cabs my many thousands, having surpassed taxis in 2017, according to TLC data. As of last year, there weree 13,587 licensed yellow cabs in the city, along with 3,570 green cabs, and 107,435 app-based for-hire vehicles.

At the same time, the value of taxi cab medallions has depreciated from a peak over $1 million to $175,000, leading to financial hardship and even suicide, and questions about a government bailout.

On the podcast, Joshi discussed the challenges of regulating an emerging business model while also attending to the decline of another, as well as other issues that came up during her tenure as chair and CEO of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, a position she was appointed to in 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio. Joshi had served under the pior TLC commissioner and also held positions at the city’s Department of Investigation and with its police oversight body, the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

During Joshi’s five years leading the TLC, the de Blasio administration, at times working with the City Council, sought to be aggressive in response to the industry disruption posed by Uber and Lyft.

Under her and de Blasio’s leadership, the city made a failed attempt to extend some regulations to the for-hire apps in 2015, when the companies were smaller, losing a battle over placing a cap on the number of new cars that could be licensed after a high-profile battle with the companies and their supporters. The Taxi and Limousine Commission did mandate that larger app-baseds companies share trip data with the city, taking a significant step toward understanding how the emerging sector was influencing traffic and travel patterns in the city.

The city wound up getting the cap in 2018, while also creating sweeping new pay protection for for-hire drivers. New York City was the first municipality in the country to take the series of actions, leading to significant changes for both the companies, their traditional taxi competitors, and the city’s transit scene.

“In New York City, we have a good history of data-driven policy,” Joshi said on the podcast. She pointed out that taxi cabs have been tracked in great detail since 2007. The city Department of Transportation uses that information to understand traffic flow and the TLC uses it to make driver protection, licensing, and other regulations. The city’s mandate that app-based taxis share trip data followed this precedent and allows for similar data-driven policy, according to Joshi.

In what would become the final months of her tenure, New York City rolled out several new regulations that have impacted the app companies.

Last year, the City Council, with the blessing of Mayor de Blasio, voted for a one-year cap on new for-hire vehicle licenses, unless for wheelchair accessible cars, and mandated a minimum wage of $17.22 per hour for rideshare drivers. It also empowered the TLC to set minimum pay rates. These actions enabled the TLC to study the impact of ride-hail apps on the city’s congestion, among other dynamics. Uber and Lyft have opposed these legislative and regulatory actions.

The city’s recent actions have come under legal scrutiny since they were announced, but the city has prevailed when legal challenges have been filed and the cases have been closed. “This is an industry that is very litigious,” Joshi admitted.

New state congestion charges for taxis ($2.50) and rideshare vehicles ($2.75) were ruled to be legal by a New York judge in February. This month, another judge upheld the new minimum wage rates against challenges from Lyft and Juno. However, the app companies’ lawsuit against the one-year cap is still ongoing.

The new regulations are having clear effects. In April, Uber and Lyft both stopped accepting new driver applications, perhaps because of the new utilization rate structure and wage minimums, not to mention the vehicle license cap. The utilization rate structure effectively penalizes rideshare companies for having a large number of drivers on the road at the same time who are not moving passengers.

During the interview, Joshi explained that “40% of every hour the app drivers that are on the road don’t have passengers. The driver pay rules try to address that balance in a way that works off of incentives and penalties. You’re going to have to pay more if you can’t keep your drivers busy,” she said. She pointed to the April announcements from Uber and Lyft as being “great news” for existing drivers, because they are the ones most hurt by oversaturation.

Joshi also believes the move was “a good example of where regulation and the market worked together,” where “the regulation is aimed at the problem and the reaction came from the companies.” This was the main goal of the policy, according to Joshi, who said “closing the pool is what we really wanted to get at.”

On May 8, some app-based drivers in New York and other cities across the country went on strike in protest of low wages and low quality of life at work, though some in New York hailed the city’s new laws and said they were striking in solidarity with drivers elsewhere and against the companies more generally. This came just ahead of Uber’s initial public offering (IPO) of stock. The New York Taxi Workers Associations coordinated the strike in New York City.

Despite her criticisms of ridesharing apps, Joshi also recognized the benefits that the industry had for the city. She said that “this is a good service, a popular service filling a void.” According to Joshi, the boroughs outside Manhattan have seen the biggest benefit from the apps and the effect on those areas “was the concern when the cap legislation was passed.”

However, Joshi also said that TLC data has shown “that there is still continuous growth” in mobility in boroughs other than Manhattan through the apps, which she attributes to the “built-in excess in the business model.”

While Joshi oversaw these new regulations and implemented them in the face of opposition from the major companies, she has also been criticized for negative consequences that the growth of these apps, including the falling value of taxi cab medallions and wages for taxi drivers, to the increased stress and suicide rates of drivers.

When asked why she is not in favor of a bailout for taxi medallion owners, Joshi said that “the problem stems from the loan,” pointing out that taxis earn profits when they are on the road and saying that banks were irresponsible in their lending.

“So many of these taxi medallions have outsized loans attached to them because the price was inflated,” comparing the situation to the housing bubble of the late 2000s. She believes that a bailout would primarily benefit the banks who offered loans for taxi drivers to acquire the medallions, saying, “I don’t know if the individual owner is better off, because they still may owe a tremendous amount of money to the banks.”

Joshi believes that banks “are going to have to write [the loans] down anyway” and “resize them for what they’re selling for now, because they have to take the loss and they might as well keep the borrower.”

As Joshi moves on to a position at NYU’s Wagner School of Public Policy as a visiting scholar and a policy advisor at Remix, the debat eover the future of the taxi industry in New York City continues, with some of her moves hailed as major progress to help save the yellow taxis and improve the lives of drivers of those and other for-hire vehicles, while others say the city has not acted quickly or aggressively enough to help taxi medallion owners, for-hire vehicle drivers, and others.

Inarguably, New York City was the first U.S. city to effectively increase regulation of the app-based for-hire vehicle companies, despite significant opposition from the industry.

Additionally, TLC was one of the agencies responsible for implementing Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero street safety program. Fatalities involving TLC vehicles dropped 50% during Joshi’s tenure. Lastly, Joshi has been credited with overseeing an increase in wheelchair-accessible vehicle availability.

[Listen to the full conversation: What's The [Data} Point? with former Taxi Commissioner Meera Joshi]

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Former City Taxi Commissioner on Regulating the App Companies and Saving the Yellows Sun, 12 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's the [Data] Point? 125,323, with Former Taxi Commissioner Meera Joshi https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8507-what-s-the-data-point-125-323-with-former-taxi-commissioner-meera-joshi https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8507-what-s-the-data-point-125-323-with-former-taxi-commissioner-meera-joshi whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 73 -- 125,323, Meera Joshi, former chair of the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtdp meera joshiMeera Joshi was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014 to chair the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission, which sets rules for and has oversight over the city's taxi industry, including yellow and green cabs, app-based for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, and more. Joshi left city government in March and joined the podcast to reflect on her tenure at TLC, including the major challenges of dealing with declining yellow and green cab sectors and booming for-hire vehicle sector.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's the [Data] Point? 125,323, with Former Taxi Commissioner Meera Joshi Thu, 09 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York City Shouldn’t Regulate Ride-Hailing Apps - It Should Compete With Them https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8080-new-york-city-shouldn-t-regulate-ride-hailing-apps-it-should-compete-with-them https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8080-new-york-city-shouldn-t-regulate-ride-hailing-apps-it-should-compete-with-them mayorsoffice balkin

(photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Smartphones are transforming transit in cities all over the world, and city governments are struggling to figure out how to best manage the change. If the world was looking to New York City’s recently enacted legislation affecting for-hire vehicle companies, then there will be disappointment given that, once again, the city’s political establishment decided to impose an outdated regulatory regime on innovative firms, making life harder for thousands of new taxi drivers while raising the price of rides for millions of New Yorkers and visitors to the city. The law, enacted this summer, caps the number of e-hail licenses in the city for a year and also enables the city to impose regulations on the type of compensation structures offered to drivers.

Who benefits? Politicians argue that it’s existing drivers who received their taxi registration before the one-year moratorium on new licenses was implemented, but if you think they’re the primary beneficiary then there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

In reality, politicians got behind this legislation because they want to send a message to Silicon Valley, the startup community and their financiers: If you want access to the 8-plus million person New York City market, you’ll have to go through the local political class first, and that will cost you: in form of taxes, campaign contributions, lobbyists, and more.

True to form, the left and right have staked out their normal positions on this issue. For the left, it’s all about protecting the wages and rights of the less-than-10,000 existing drivers, even if that means higher costs for all New Yorkers and more obstacles for people who want to earn money by driving a car. For the right, it’s about protecting businesses and drivers from regulatory controls that will raise prices for consumers, even if that means facilitating the big business takeover of an industry that has been a source of wealth for independent individuals and small businesses in New York City for a century.

Like many issues involving new technology, we need to look beyond the left-wing or right-wing way to manage these technologies, and instead look to the “open source way.”

What do we want? Safe, convenient rides, with low prices for riders, high income for drivers, positive impacts on traffic, and data protection for everyone involved.

The best way to achieve these ends isn’t complex licensure regimes, quotas on new taxis, or putting more surveillance technologies in our cars or on our streets. Instead, New York City should do for its local cab industry the same thing successful industries do for themselves: standardize how information is formatted and exchanged between systems. This makes it possible for information from one app, like Uber, to be read, understood and interacted with by another app, like Lyft or Google Maps.

Making ride-hailing data more standardized and interoperable will have a number of benefits.

First, it aggregates supply and demand, which increases competition in the taxi market leading to lower prices for riders and more business for drivers.

Second, it gives riders and drivers more options, allowing them to use an app with the mission of benefiting New Yorkers instead of benefiting investors in giant tech corporations.

Third, it mitigates a threat many people fear: that Uber, Lyft, and other venture-backed ride-sharing apps are subsidizing their own cab rides to undermine the legacy taxi industry, and then once the legacy industry is dead, they’ll jack up prices. That strategy won’t work if New York City is committed to maintaining a system of its own.

The idea of establishing a “ride sharing” (or “e-hail”) standard isn’t new. It has been discussed and proposed by a number of people in New York City’s tech community for years, including Ben Kallos, a tech-aware City Council member who proposed it in a 2014 bill, and by Chris Whong, now the lead developer of NYC Planning Labs, who proposed it in a 2013 blog post.

Critics of this approach have claimed that the city doesn’t have the capacity to develop its own e-hailing systems, but that simply isn’t true. Generic apps similar to Lyft and Uber exist in hundreds of markets around the world. Even local cab companies in New York City have developed their own apps.

Creating an e-hailing system for New York City would likely involve a three-step process: (a) develop a “ride sharing data standards” body that would bring riders, drivers, city agencies, and app developers together to create specifications for how all taxi-hailing information should be formatted and exchanged; (b) develop and operate a basic, open source e-hail smartphone application that would use these data standards to, like any one of the dozens of ride-hailing apps available around the world, allow New Yorkers to request rides and drivers to fulfill those requests; and (c) create a city-administered server that not only processes information from the current city taxi app but also allows other ride-sharing apps to exchange their information with the server.

This approach would give Uber, Lyft, and other popular apps a choice: they can plug in to the city’s e-hail exchange server and share their rider and driver information with other apps - or go it alone and face the consequences of having less access to rider and driver information than their competitors.

This approach leverages the city’s considerable influence to produce a number of benefits:

By following established best practices from government digital service organizations and open source communities, this system could be produced quickly and inexpensively. And by open-sourcing an app and inviting other cities to use and modify the New York City code, we could join a small but growing community of cities around the world developing and sharing open source software (such as Madrid’s Consul project) that enables them to provide government services faster, better, cheaper, and in a more ethical manner.

The original meaning of “regulation” wasn’t the levying of taxes and fees to penalize innovation -- it was to “make regular” through the implementation of transparent business practices and the adoption of standard operating procedures. That is precisely what New York City should be doing, and it can do so by modelling best practice behavior that challenges Silicon Valley (and its New York-based counterparts) to produce better products, for lower prices, in more responsible ways, with more respect for the rights of their users.

Any municipality can throw rocks at Silicon Valley by imposing taxes and creating obstacles to market entry, but few have the capacity and scale to challenge Silicon Valley by creating innovative products. New York City has that ability. Let’s use it.

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Devin Balkind is a technologist and nonprofit executive who works on civic technology projects in New York City. On Twitter @DevinBalkind.

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

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New York City Shouldn’t Regulate Ride-Hailing Apps - It Should Compete With Them Thu, 29 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
For-Hire Companies Must Make Rides Accessible to All https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7734-for-hire-companies-must-make-rides-accessible-to-all https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7532-don-t-let-congestion-pricing-push-accessible-taxis-off-the-road https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7362-the-city-s-bogus-compromise-with-uber-would-hurt-riders-with-disabilities https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6965-as-cities-wrestle-with-the-sharing-economy-a-new-alliance https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6955-uber-scam-calls-for-independent-monitor https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6396-last-minute-frenzy-in-albany-sets-table-for-final-negotiations https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/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 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6188-no-surprise-uber-drivers-are-protesting https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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.

***
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