Taxi drivers protest in Albany as Assembly passes bill

June 22, 2011 5:17:31 AM PDT
Yellow cab and livery drivers took their protest to Albany Tuesday after New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg skirted the City Council to score an outer borough taxi victory.

The state Assembly voted 110-28 Tuesday to pass the bill, which would let livery drivers legally pick up passengers who hail them in the city's four outer boroughs and northern Manhattan.

With dozens of yellow cabs from New York City lining the streets around the state Capitol on Tuesday and their medallion drivers rallying in opposition to the bill, Republican Sen. Martin Golden of Brooklyn tells them talks continue with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to see if something else can be worked out.

Drivers who own taxi medallions or lease cabs from medallion owners said they'll lose money along with the exclusive legal right to street hails in the city.

The city has more than 13,000 yellow taxis, but several lawmakers say they never see them in their boroughs.

In a sponsors' memo, Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie says the goal is reaching underserved areas and making travel in the city more affordable. The measure would authorize 1,500 more cab licenses, with more than one-third handicapped-accessible, up to 30,000 hail privilege permits to for-hire vehicles, and 450 permits for base stations.

Medallion drivers say lax enforcement already lets livery drivers illegally scoop fares.

The bill would rely on a permit system that does not have to be approved by the City Council, a move that shocked livery drivers and the yellow cab industry.

Protesters gathered on the steps of City Hall Monday, but only 300 taxi drivers were allowed in, leaving a long line of protestors at the gates.

"Some drivers will probably quit driving and go on welfare because it's going to be bad for the city," yellow cab driver Joseph Landig said.

The 30,000 new permits would allow livery drivers to pick up passengers who hail them on any city street except the airports and below West 110th Street and East 96th Street in Manhattan.

The permits would go for $1,500.

The bill would also authorize the sale of 1,500 additional yellow medallions, which sell for $800,000 on the open market.

Some owners are worried that their licenses would lose value.

"It's a great opportunity for people to have a legitimate business, something they can be proud of, and the mayor is taking that away from them," said Richard Kay, President of the League of Mutual Taxi Owners.

On the other side of the aisle are livery cab drivers who say yellow cabs neglect the outer boroughs.

Right now, they get slapped with a $350 fine for picking up a hail instead of a service call.

"You tell a cab driver I'm going to Washington Heights or the Bronx, they won't because they're afraid to go there," Bronx livery driver Jose Velez said.

As these things so often go, opponents plan to sue the city.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)