What Led To New York City's Legislation To Cap The Number Of Ride-Hailing Vehicles

Aug 9, 2018
Originally published on August 9, 2018 10:47 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In a first for a major city in the U.S., New York has passed legislation to cap the number of ride-hailing vehicles driving for Uber and Lyft. The legislation also guarantees a minimum pay rate for drivers. This move comes as other big cities are trying to figure out how to deal with these really popular car services. And to put New York's plan into context nationally, we're going to go now to Aarian Marshall. She covers transportation for Wired. Welcome.

AARIAN MARSHALL: Hi, there.

CHANG: So let's just first start with what's happening in New York. This wasn't the first time the city has tried to regulate ride-hailing services. But why do you think there was so much more support this time around from city leaders to push these rules through?

MARSHALL: I think there are a few reasons why this worked this time. The first is that there's been this really tragic spate of taxi and livery drivers' suicides. And the families for those drivers say that the reason those people killed themselves is because they didn't feel like they were making enough money to live. I think another problem - and this isn't just in New York - is that there's increasing evidence that Uber and Lyft are creating terrible traffic problems in some of the country's biggest cities. And there's increasing worry from cities like New York that Uber and Lyft are pulling people off of public transit. And public transit in this country is really struggling. So that's really worrying.

CHANG: Has Uber or Lyft responded in any way to this move by New York City?

MARSHALL: Yeah, certainly. Their argument is that this is going to decrease the level of service for Uber and Lyft customers in this city because if there are only so many vehicles that are allowed to be on the roads, that means that there might be higher wait times. They say even higher fares for riders - particularly ones that live in the outer boroughs, outside central Manhattan, who have particularly been poorly served by taxis and by public transit in the past.

CHANG: On the issue of public transportation - that Uber and Lyft are taking away riders from public transit - I'm here in D.C. And I can tell you firsthand that public transportation is suffering in quality here. So this idea of declining quality in public transportation, I mean that's in a lot of major cities, right?

MARSHALL: Definitely. And there's a bit of debate over whether there really is a causal relationship between the decline of transit services and the rise of Uber and Lyft. It seems like they just sort of might have started to happen at the same time. But, yeah, this is a problem that's facing lots of cities. And lots of cities have been really frustrated by the way that these companies have come into their cities - often without asking for permission, without regulations - and just sort of launched service and not taken into account necessarily the way that very specific cities' public transportation systems work.

CHANG: Well, how have other cities beyond New York responded to the problems that companies like Uber and Lyft create?

MARSHALL: It's been really different in each city. In Chicago, for example, they put a fee on each Uber and Lyft ride. That money actually goes towards their public transit system there. In Hawaii in Honolulu, they just put a cap on surge pricing. But the problem in a lot of cities across the U.S. is that they don't actually have the authority to regulate Uber and Lyft. In a lot of states, like California and Massachusetts, the ability to regulate ride-hail companies actually belongs to the state. And cities don't have control over what goes on in their roads. I spoke to some San Francisco officials recently. And they said that they hope this New York model will show states that cities really should have a role in regulating what goes on on their streets. But it's still an open question how that will turn out.

CHANG: Aarian Marshall covers transportation for Wired. She joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Thank you for joining us.

MARSHALL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.