By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Mayor Bill de Blasio joined union advocates, taxi drivers and other local elected officials in Union Square last Thursday to celebrate the passage of legislation that puts a cap on the number of cars allowed through for-hire vehicle apps.
The cap is meant to address congestion and driver wages, as well as the weakening of the taxi industry, and won’t have any impact on the number of for-hire vehicles already on the road. The legislation additionally includes a new minimum compensation rule for drivers, and the one-year cap does not apply to wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
“The city is sending a clear message: we’re putting hard-working New Yorkers ahead of corporations,” de Blasio said. “The City Council has spoken boldly, and now we can act. We are taking immediate action for the benefit of more than 100,000 hard-working New Yorkers who deserve a fair wage, and halting the flood of new cars grinding our streets to a halt.”
The legislation, sponsored by Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin and which the mayor signed on Tuesday, will also initiate a study to comprehensively manage the industry in order to reduce congestion and protect workers by ensuring fair pay.
According to a report by City Council’s Committee on For-Hire Vehicles, wages for drivers are so low that 40 percent qualify for Medicaid while 16 percent have no coverage at all, and 18 percent qualify for supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP benefits), which is twice the rate of New York workers overall.
“For-hire drivers should be able to support themselves and their family without working long, unhealthy hours and still struggling to put food on the table,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said at the rally.
“They shouldn’t have to work longer and longer with each passing month because thousands of new cars are flooding the streets without a common-sense way to absorb them.”
The report from the committee also found that app-based cars spend about 40 percent of their trips without passengers.
“That’s horrendous for the drivers, horrendous for our environment, a horrible element of congestion all because of a corporate and greedy strategy,” de Blasio said. “And what has that meant for the people who do the work? It has meant their livelihoods are being steadily destroyed. People who once expected a good income and a pathway to the middle class, are now forced to live on poverty wages.”
The location of the rally in Union Square is in City Council District 2, represented by Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who was also a co-sponsor of the legislation and said that she was an early supporter of the bill.
“We know there are big powers in this fight who are looking to just focus on their bottom line,” Rivera said. “I’m proud to live in Lower Manhattan but we’re experiencing congestion, traffic, air quality, and we have to do what’s best for people of New York and what’s best for drivers. We really did the right thing.”
Héctor Figueroa, president of the 32BJ SEIU, which is headquartered on West 18th Street near Union Square, said he hoped the legislation would become a model for the rest of the country.
“This is a bright day for the labor movement,” Figueroa said. “There are those who think that in the new economy where people’s jobs are allocated through technology that workers no longer have rights and no longer have power. Today’s legislation is telling us is that we can still win in a gig economy and that workers are still workers and that we can still come together.”