Staff and drivers for ride-hailing company Uber gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday to protest legislation that would put limits on for-hire vehicles while the city conducts a study on whether the sharp growth of the industry has an impact on traffic congestion.
Such a cap would stifle Uber's growth in the nation's largest city and cost the city nearly 10,000 jobs, company representative Matthew Wing said.
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The bill, introduced by Democratic Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, would temporarily cap the number of for-hire vehicle licenses issued in the city while the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection study the impact of the growth of the e-hail industry.
According to Rodriguez's testimony, the number of e-hail taxis, or black cars, on the city's roads has nearly tripled in the last 18 months.
Uber has said it plans to add 10,000 drivers in the city by the end of the year, but that growth would be hindered because the cap would most impact Uber's bases, resulting in only an additional 200 vehicles.
The taxi commission's chair, Meera Joshi, said at the hearing that city planners should be able to study congestion without adding to it in the meantime. She said the cap is necessary to establish a baseline.
Uber's policy manager, Michael Allegretti, took issue with the city's approach, saying that the focus shouldn't be just on for-hire vehicles but the entire traffic picture of the city and that the study could be completed with existing models and data without capping the number of licenses.
"The point of the legislation, to be clear, is to make the for-hire industry mirror the yellow taxi industry," Allegretti said. "To make people who are small business owners become shift workers."
Uber doesn't consider its drivers employees but rather driver partners, who are their own small-business owners.
Rebecca Walls, spokeswoman for the Who's Driving You? campaign of the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association, said everyone else already has caps and regulations implemented.
"Right now, Uber has free rein," she said.
Rodriguez said that the city wants to continue to support the thriving industry but Uber and the drivers have to adhere to the same rules as everybody else.
"They will not be able to get everything they want at this moment," he said.
Rodriguez may face some opposition to the bill from other council members.
Democratic Councilman Robert Cornegy, who represents parts of Brooklyn, said in his written testimony that a thriving for-hire vehicle industry has had great benefit for people in his Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights communities. He said the Federal Trade Commission has weighed in on similar proposals in other jurisdictions and counseled against imposing limits.