New York City, Uber strike deal: No cap on company during 4-month study

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Jim Dolan has the story. (WABC)

Uber cars can continue to be a growing presence on the streets of New York City now that an agreement has been reached between the ride-hailing company and the city.

The mayor's office says Uber has agreed to a four-month study on the impact of its vehicles on the city's traffic and the environment.

On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio discussed Uber, referring to the "multibillion dollar corporation which is looking out for its own interests and its own profitability."

He said the city stood up to Uber and now it has to play by a set of government rules. A cap can still be implemented if Uber does not make good on its promises to the city, he said. But he also stressed that Uber will have "a strong presence in this city." As such, they have to play by the same rules as the other transportation providers, said the mayor.

Also on Thursday, taxi industry representatives protested outside City Hall. "How can a $50 billion company (be) given what feels like free reign?" said one protester.

A City Council vote had been scheduled for Thursday that could have capped the number of cars Uber can have on city streets. Instead, the council members are expected to meet to talk about how to pursue the study.

The eleventh-hour deal backs off, for now, placing a cap on the number of cars the ride-hailing company can have on the streets of the nation's largest city.

De Blasio's administration announced late Wednesday - on the eve of a City Council vote that could have established the restriction - that Uber agreed to a four-month study on the impact of the cars on the city's traffic and the environment.

Under the deal, the city will not cap Uber's growth during those four months.

The agreement contrasts sharply with the legislation the council was set to vote on Thursday, which called for a 1 percent cap on the San Francisco-based company's growth within New York City during a yearlong study. Uber has steadfastly opposed any cap, and the company and City Hall had traded increasingly nasty barbs over the past week.

But the hostilities were set aside to announce the surprise arrangement, which also included a commitment to turn over far more data to the city on the location and duration of its rides. The company also agreed to discuss working toward making more of its vehicles handicap-accessible and contributing to the region's mass transit network.

"The city received a willingness on the company's part to make sure there was no effort to flood the market with dramatically increased rates of growth," said First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris, in charge at City Hall as de Blasio returns from a conference at the Vatican. "The company eventually agreed to what we've been asking for a while."

City officials said the deal, which will keep Uber at its current rate of growth, was reminiscent of what the de Blasio administration offered Uber early in the negotiating process. It was brokered after Uber officials reached out to Shorris on Tuesday night, setting up a meeting with officials from the council and the mayor's office the next day.

Though City Council staffers said the cap legislation would have passed, the de Blasio administration's position appeared to weaken as Uber unleashed its ad campaign. Officials in the mayor's office said a cap could still be imposed if Uber reneges on the agreement, though it was unclear if the necessary council votes would still be there in four months.

"We are pleased new drivers will continue to be free to join the for-hire industry and partner with Uber," Josh Mohrer, Uber NYC's general manager, said in a statement. "Together, we can build an even better, more reliable transportation system."

The $40 billion company has become a dominant force on the streets of New York, dispatching 25,000 cars - up from under 100 just four years ago - compared to 13,000 of the city's iconic yellow taxis.

In pushing for a cap, the de Blasio administration cited concern over increased congestion on Manhattan's clogged streets. When talks broke down last week, sniping between City Hall and Uber reached a frenzy with the ride-hailing service launching an expensive TV ad campaign that depicted the mayor as too influenced by the yellow taxi industry, which ranks among his biggest donors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a growing number of public officials who had been calling for the council to delay the vote, instead cheered the agreement. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that the study will be passed Thursday but no longer carry a cap.

Uber rider Kryzsztof Anton of Queens said he was pleased the two sides reached at least a temporary halt on the city's plan. The Long Island City resident said he has been riding in taxis in New York for more than a decade and now always chooses Uber.

He said Uber travel is a more comfortable experience and believes the drivers are more courteous and polite because they are being rated by the customer.

"It's a completely different experience," he said. "I'm a big fan."

The ride-hailing service, which provides cars summoned by smartphone app, attacked the mayor even in the hour before the deal was announced, saying his central argument - that Uber is a leading cause of traffic - was not true.

Yellow taxis make 90 percent of their trips in Manhattan, according to city officials. Uber released data that it said showed a far lower percentage of its rush hour trips began there.

Uber officials also said it has an hourly average of just under 2,000 cars in the city's central business district during the day, a far cry from the huge number of yellow taxis that operate there.

The company's seemingly ubiquitous ads also touted its benefits as a job creator and its service to minority riders in outer boroughs - de Blasio's political base.
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trafficubertaxinew york city councilMayor Bill de BlasiolegislationNew York City
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