By DEREK NORMAN
Taxi drivers, union representatives and supporters took to the Midtown concrete Thursday to protest Cuomo’s effort to pass the “upstate bill” that would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to operate throughout New York state.
The “upstate bill” would give the popular ride-hailing companies the green light to operate in largely untapped markets such as Buffalo, Rochester and other counties. While the yellow cab industry is restricted to stringent regulations, drivers fear that the more lax companies like Uber will steal their fares in the already-crowded city streets.
“If this bill gets passed it will destroy the professional driver industry,” said Asim Akhtar, of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Uber has said that it provides drivers a temporary job, because for them it’s just a supplementary income. As opposed to us, these are our full time jobs. These are our careers.”
The companies known as Transportation Network Companies, or TNC’s, which use mobile apps to connect with customers, are currently not authorized to operate in many counties outside of New York City. Advantages that TNC cars have over yellow cabs is the ability to drive their personal cars, which cuts out factors like the $500-a-month car insurance and the thousands of dollars for a certified medallion.
“They want a special law that says they don’t have to follow the law and that’s basically the Uber way,” said Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “For the thousands of men and women who depend on taxi driving for a full time living, this TNC bill would mean an absolute destruction of their full time jobs.”
On the corner of 41 Street and Third Avenue where the demonstration took place, yellow cabs honked relentlessly with fists of solidarity stretched out their windows as they passed their fellow cabbies. Sometimes several enthusiastic cabs passed at a time, which prompted cheers from the modest crowd.
“We don’t need a crap bill from Albany that gives Uber separate standards as if it’s some angel from heaven,” one man shouted. “Shame on them! Shame on Albany!”
Typically, a yellow cab driver earns what averages out to $6 an hour, which is hardly a living wage, according to the union officials. As Uber drivers can charge as low as 70 cents per mile, the financial struggle cab drivers are facing has increased. “What the governor calls affordable and accessible pay, we call poverty pay,” noted Desai.
The emergence of TNC cars came just after the taxi industry spent almost ten years creating the “green cab” sector to operate in the outer-boroughs, which irritated many of the drivers. Many criticisms also targeted the close connection between Uber and Wall Street, which many believe is boosting the bill’s popularity.
“They need to regulate Uber just like us taxis,” said Kumar Arvin, a cab driver for over 25 years. “They are making this place like Afghanistan. This is not Afghanistan; this is the United States where we have systems that protect us. They are bribing everybody and getting past all these laws and regulations.”
The outcome will be decided on March 31, when the “upstate bill” will be voted on in Albany. Until then the road rage between 13,000 yellow cab drivers and 50,000 Uber drivers who occupy New York City will continue.
“I am a face of Uber and I am telling you Uber has now become a cancer,” said Ryan Jacob, a livery driver and former Uber driver of five years. “We’ve made them the company they are in New York and now they’ve betrayed us. It must go down in history as the greatest betrayal to the working class and this industry.”