Car-service riders and drivers — particularly cabbies — caught a big break last week when a judge blocked a new congestion surcharge on for-hire vehicles from kicking in Wednesday as scheduled.
The fee would hit ride-share and yellow-taxi trips below 96th Street in Manhattan. For Uber, Lyft and black-car rides, the charge would be $2.75 for one rider and 75 cents for two or more. Yellow-cab fares would see an extra $2.50 slapped on.
The idea was to gin up $421 million a year in new revenue for the cash-strapped MTA and help unclog traffic in Manhattan’s central business district. But it made little sense from the start.
For starters, the fee would be yet one more tax meant to bail out mass transit, on top of numerous existing taxes and the current taxi surcharge. And even if it raised the hoped-for amount, it wouldn’t come close to plugging the MTA’s holes.
Nor would the fee ease much congestion, since private cars, trucks and buses, which cause most of the traffic, would be exempt.
Meanwhile, the taxi industry, which has been rocked by competition from Uber and Lyft, would face another whopping setback: The extra $2.50 fee would mean riders would owe a total of $5.80 before the taxi even started moving.
Uber could keep the add-on to just 75 cents by claiming all its cars are meant for multiple passengers. And it could also absorb some or all of the charge, giving it a big edge on fares.
New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai warned that the fee would “devastate” his industry.
It gets worse: The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has refused to draft the necessary regulations. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi denounced the plan this month, noting the lack of meaningful evidence that it would quell congestion.
Yet her argument contrasted with that of her own boss, Mayor de Blasio, who recently claimed the charge is necessary, because “we have a climate crisis, a congestion crisis and a failing MTA.”
He said he backs it because it addresses all these issues simultaneously — but added that it had to be applied fairly.
Nothing like having your cake and eating it, too, right?
Fact is, the plan needs rethinking. Albany, recall, originally considered hitting all cars with the fee, but that drew too much resistance from outer-borough drivers. So it limited it to car services — in a way that will clobber already ailing cabbies and make the plan totally ineffective.
Lawmakers need to go back to Square One. Whether or not the courts force them to.
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