Capital New York Some progressives wary of Uber cap proposal by Gloria Pazmino
A de Blasio administration-backed proposal to place a temporary cap on the hail-app taxi industry does not have the support of some of the mayor's progressive allies in the City Council.
The Council and the administration are currently negotiating two bills that affect companies like Uber and Lyft. One would place a one-year moratorium on new licenses. The second would authorize the city to conduct a study of the industry and come up with suggestions to regulate the cars.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has argued the growing industry needs to be reined in and regulated. While the city comes up with a plan to do that, licenses for hail-app vehicles would not be issued at the current rate.
But for many Council members the hail-app issue is more about jobs and economics than it is about congestion or the need to regulate an industry.
Councilman Antonio Reynoso, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, said he is voting against the cap but he supports the idea of a study.
Reynoso said many drivers in his district work both for Uber and private livery car bases because they see it as an opportunity to make extra cash. Reynoso, who supports the MoveNY Plan to modernize the city's system of tolls, including the installation of tolls on East River bridges, said if the city is concerned about congestion then it should consider plans that have been submitted to tackle that specific issue.
Like Reynoso, Councilman Ben Kallos, a Democrat from the Upper East Side and a member of the Progressive Caucus, opposes the cap but supports the study. “The scientific method dictates we look at existing reality as a control before we test our hypothesis,” Kallos told Capital. “The moratorium on Uber is drastic, for every single reason that is being spoused that we need this moratorium we have regulations that have been introduced by Council members that have been sitting there since last year, so this doesn’t seem like an emergency.”
For Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who represents parts of Harlem, the issue is solely about jobs, which, she said, many of her black and Latino constituents hold. “I’m not going to support either bill,” Dickens told Capital. “There are too many minority drivers. These men and women are probably 99 percent minority, they are incapable of getting the medallions which are capped and medallions for years did not pick up blacks and Latinos. I don’t feel the need to hinder employment of minorities.” Dickens said the de Blasio administration has reached out to her and other members to ask their support. "But that doesn’t weigh with me," she said. "It’s what the bill says and doesn’t say."
Councilman Fernando Cabrera of the Bronx echoed Dickens' remarks. “Limiting Uber means killing jobs in my community,” Cabrera said in a statement sent to reporters on Tuesday. “This city can’t pretend to support working people if it rams through regulations that prevent them from earning better wages."
Councilman Donovan Richards of Queens, another member of the council’s Progressive Caucus, told Capital he remains undecided. “I’m hearing from all sides," he said, noting that local cab companies have told him they are "concerned" about Uber. "I’m one who believes regulations are important but we still have to obviously weigh and measure the conversations I’m having with different parties,” he said.
Councilwoman Debi Rose, who also is a member of the Progressive Caucus and represents Staten Island’s North Shore, said she has "mixed feelings" about the legislation. Several other Council members reached by Capital said they have yet to take a position on the bill and declined to comment on the record.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, a Democrat from Queens, said he believes he will support both bills and he criticized Uber’s tactics in recent weeks, which have included aggressive TV ads and mailers to members supporting the cap.
“I am leaning heavily in favor of voting in favor for both pieces of legislation,” Van Bramer told Capital. “I’ve met with both sides, I’ve come down on the side of us having a role to play in making sure that everything is working well. The Council regulates lots of agencies, and lots of industries,” he said.
Uber’s recent flurry of mailers and television ads has turned off some Council members who were initially on the fence about supporting the cap.
Councilman Andrew Cohen, a Democrat from the Bronx, said he remains undecided but has received robocalls at his home asking residents to reach out to his office because he remains undecided. Cohen said he has not received attack mailers or negative phone calls but that many of his colleagues have.
Councilwoman Margaret Chin of Manhattan, one of the original sponsors of the cap proposal, also ripped into Uber's advertising campaigns.
“I don’t appreciate it but I’m not going be bullied,” said Chin, who plans to vote in favor of both bills. “We want to do the study so we can document what is the impact on air quality, noise and public health. We are not killing jobs. People who have licenses can renew and people can apply for new ones.”
Other Council members who remain undecided include David Greenfield of Brooklyn, Dan Garodnick of Manhattan, and Inez Barron of Brooklyn.
The Council has yet to schedule an official vote for this week. Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has yet to take a position, said the bill was going through the “normal legislative process.”
The whole Council is expected to meet for its monthly stated meeting at the end of this week.