Congestion Pricing: NYS Turns its Back on Thousands of Immigrants and Disabled New Yorkers Part II
May 16, 2018

Congestion Pricing: NYS Turns its Back on Thousands of Immigrants and Disabled New Yorkers Part II by Nicole EpsteinBy Nicole Epstein, Associate

{Read in 4 minutes}  In Part I of this blog we looked at a variety of proposals to fund the MTA and reduce congestion by charging mandatory surcharges to Uber and E-Hail vehicles. In Part II, we will look at another major disadvantage for yellow taxi medallion owners — wheelchair accessibility.

The disability advocates had fought long and hard to get some type of wheelchair mandate, meaning wheelchair accessible vehicles on the road in New York City. An agreement was reached where the New York City Taxi and Limousine Tribunal (TLT) made an agreement with disability advocates to make the yellow taxi fleets 50% wheelchair accessible by 2020. This is a landmark agreement and a huge, huge victory for the Disability Act folks out there.

The problem is that operating these wheelchair accessible vehicles is much costlier. First, they are bigger and bulkier which affects their maneuverability on City streets. They are also gas guzzlers and more expensive to repair. These costs are put on the yellow taxi industry, but aren’t placed on the Uber cars.

Jim Weisman from the United Spinal Association has argued that the wheelchair accessible vehicles should be exempt from congestion pricing. We are trying to find a way to give private owners like Uber drivers, an incentive to drive wheelchair accessible vehicles. What better way than to say, “Any vehicle that is for hire in New York City and is wheelchair accessible by having a ramp inside, would be exempt from congestion pricing.” Everyone agreed this made sense.

But for some reason, New York State felt that it wasn’t necessary to exempt wheelchair accessible vehicles and instead of giving some type of acknowledgment to the people who are driving these vehicles, they decided to give a “carve out” for Uber Pool trips (multiple riders), decreasing the surcharge to only $0.75. So, right now, in the New York City budget for congestion pricing, yellow taxi trips will now have a $2.50 surcharge, while Uber trips will include a $2.75 surcharge, and a $0.75 surcharge for Uber Pool trips.

A lot of things are disheartening about that:

  • No wheelchair accessibility exemptions;
  • Charging yellow taxi medallion owners even more money.

There have been four taxi medallion and delivery owner/driver suicides in the past three months due to financial stress because of the influx of the E-hails. The Ubers, the Lyfts of the universe come in and start roaming their streets for free. So, to have an additional $2.50 tacked on to them is truly going to devastate the industry.

I don’t think New York State was really thinking clearly when they passed this and I don’t think it’s fair to the 6,000 hard working, immigrant medallion owners out there, who really have their backs up against the wall. In a way, it’s the definition of kicking someone when they’re already down. But that’s what New York State did.

So, the only congestion pricing that passed to help fund the MTA is a charge on yellow taxi and E-hail trips. Given the enormity of the problem, it is doubtful that this action will make a dent.