By Dan Rivoli
Anxious and struggling drivers waiting for relief from the city heard lawmakers on Monday discuss a package of bills that aim to help them financially, emotionally and physically.
The bills follow a successful effort to cap the number of app-based cars that had flooded the market, driving down wages and yellow taxi medallion values.
“We have an interest in making sure that there’s an economic model that works so drivers and owners are out on the street providing service,” Taxi and Limousine Commission Chair Meera Joshi said.
Industrywide, lawmakers want the TLC to educate drivers who want to enter the business and set up driver assistance centers that can offer mental health services. The Council would also prevent drivers from losing money when credit cards fail or get rejected.
The TLC would look at ways to set up a health and benefits system.
For Uber and app-drivers, the TLC could cap how much they would pay on lease or rental agreements, and stop app companies from deducting those payments right out of their fares.
Councilman Mark Levine suggested that a bailout should be “financed out of the app-based business” with a surcharge into a fund to compensate medallion owners who also drive — “the little guys,” not owners like Michael Cohen, a one-time taxi medallion owner and former personal lawyer for President Trump.
Drivers, meanwhile, are demanding help because they’re still struggling to make ends meet. The cap on cars on for-hire companies froze in place an industry that had already been flooded with drivers.
Mohamed Hassan, a yellow taxi driver from Woodside, Queens, said that boosting values of medallions is important to him. He said the city need not wait for a study to do that. He suggested setting a minimum fare, industry wide, for every type of car.
“Everybody’s very anxious about medallion prices going down,” Hassan said. “It’s very hard for us.”
Tina Raveneau, an Uber and Lyft driver and organizer with the Independent Drivers Guild, said she’s waiting on the TLC to lift her wages. The agency proposed rules for creating a minimum pay standard for trips that’ll be discussed in October.
“I’m embarrassed to say what I make, to be honest,” Raveneau said. “It’s very embarrassing, it’s not livable.”
She is also glad to see the Council limiting payments for leasing or renting vehicles would help her earn money — a practice that Uber stopped doing in November.
The only new for-hire cars allowed on the road are wheelchair accessible — that’s skyrocketed the price of renting one to $800, from $350 a year ago, Raveneau, who has family with mobility issues, said.
“I know the pain they go through, it’s not all the time they want to be seen in Access-A-Ride,” she said. “If you’re in a wheelchair, and you’re going to a wedding, an event, you want to feel special too and show up in a nice vehicle.”