New York Freezes Ride-Sharing Vehicles, Orders Minimum Wage for Uber, Lyft Drivers

Uber, Lyft, Via, and others won’t be able to add new vehicles to the roads of the five boroughs of New York City following a 39-6 vote by the city council to freeze registrations for one year.

About 80,000 vehicles are currently used for so-called “ride sharing,” in which drivers get a hail through an app. They complete 17 million rides a month. The city licenses for street hailing just under 14,000 yellow cabs and fewer than 4,000 “green” taxis, which can’t pick up fares in the lower two-thirds of Manhattan. The council said it will use the next year to study congestion and other factors.

The council separately voted to require a minimum wage for drivers that work with high-volume ride-sharing services—those that dispatch 10,000 or more rides per day. The regulation didn’t specify a dollar amount, but a report presented to the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission last month by the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics suggested $17.22 an hour, which would be $15 plus the overhead costs of operating a vehicle. Right now, only 15% of drivers make at least that much.

The freeze may result in fewer vehicles on the road, as the city won’t allow easy licensing in most cases, and about 25% of drivers exit the services each year. An Uber spokesperson noted, however, that 35,000 for-hire vehicles are licensed and not currently driven, and that many licensed vehicles aren’t driven every day or time of day. That may allow companies to offer incentives for vehicle owners to start driving or lease their vehicles to others.

In a statement, Lyft’s Vice President of Public Policy Joseph Okpaku said the council’s rules translate to “sweeping cuts” that will disproportionately affect “communities of color and in the outer boroughs.” An Uber spokesperson said that the move offers no improvement for congestion or to the subways; the company supports comprehensive congestion pricing.

The rise of Uber and others has caused a complicated set of new alliances and charges of racism and economic servitude from all sides. Rallies were held by proponents and opponents of the new for-hire vehicle rules earlier in the day.

Yellow taxi drivers, subject to regulated pricing, have found themselves working harder for less return, while the value of a required taxi vehicle license, a medallion, has dropped precipitously. Six drivers have committed suicide in recent months. People of color and immigrants predominate among yellow cab drivers. Green taxis, designed to encourage pick ups in underserved areas outside of Manhattan, never took off as the city wanted, and their numbers declined sharply as app-hailed vehicles hit the road.

Meanwhile, drivers for the app-based services have grown dramatically, increasing congestion in dense areas of Manhattan—according to the city council and other government bodies—without providing their drivers with a viable or consistent living wage, either.

Anti-discrimination proponents have backed vehicles dispatched by app as providing a way for people of color to obtain a ride reliably, rather than be illegally ignored by street-hailed cabs, and offering far better access to get picked up or dropped off outside of limited core areas of the city.