By Euna Lee
A new bill, called the Five-Borough Taxi Plan, which will permit up to 30,000 livery cabs to pick up street hails anywhere in the five boroughs outside of the Manhattan Central Business District and the airports, is on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his final approval.
The goal of the new plan, which was passed in June by the state legislature, is to give high quality taxi service to residents in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and upper Manhattan; the areas yellow cabs generally don’t travel to. But the plan doesn’t clarify what the new permit will mean for livery cab drivers, including a possible fee, if the bill passes. And many livery cab drivers worry that the unspecified potential costs may mean they won’t be able to keep operating their taxi business.
Kamel Alwawada, 24, a livery cab driver of two years, said fellow drivers fear the new plan will require a meter that is similar to the one in yellow cabs, approximately $1,500 more in insurance and it will make him paint his black Town car a brighter color.
“The city is doing it just for money, not for people.” Alwawada said, sitting in his cab at the corner of 187th Street and Fort Washington Avenue in Washington Heights, where livery cabs often park.
What the future law requires is not very clear for drivers yet. Every driver has a slightly different idea about what the law might mean. They hear one thing from fellow drivers, another from their dispatch centers. Some turn to the customer phone line at the Taxi and Limousine Commission for answers, but its average waiting time, over 20 minutes, doesn’t motivate many livery drivers to pick up the phone.
Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesperson, Allan Fromberg said the additional $1500.00 insurance is not true but the plan will require a meter, roof light with a GPS system and an undecided common color. And other options are on the table for discussion.
“Livery cab drivers should pay closely attention on TLC website for the new plan,” Fromberg said. “We will post new information as soon as we have it.”
But Internet access is not much of an option for the drivers who spend half of their day driving. And their dependence on the information, which comes from word of mouth, has left worries for many drivers about what the new bill might mean to their bottom line.
Jesus Navarro, 77, a livery cab driver for the last 35 years, still believes that his car insurance will go up under the new plan. Navarro calculates that it costs him $60 a week for gas to cover his 12-hour workday, which begins at 6 a.m., and $60 to $70 a week in fees to his base dispatch that provides him with service calls. For Navarro, any additional cost will sting.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” Navarro’s fellow driver, Marlo Mejia said.
Mejia thinks he might need up to $8,000 for painting his car and meter and for other requirements, if he wants to continue his business. He’s driven a livery cab for seven years, but says he has not had enough left over to save a large amount after expenses. “We may need to look for some people who have money to pay.” He laughingly added, shrugging, “Jewish? Russian Mafias?” He isn’t the only driver who jokes about such things.
Meanwhile, customers who might benefit from the new plan don’t seem to even be aware of the bill. In Washington Heights, for example, residents just seem to be glad that they have taxis around them. And some worry if liveries are allowed to pick up fares anywhere in the city, especially in busier spots downtown, it might result in fewer cabs in their neighborhood
“We have no yellow cabs here. It will be bad if I don’t see the livery cabs here. I like them,” said Aisha Schiebler, 30, a 4-year-resident of Washington Heights, who uses livery cabs three times a week said.
Picking up a fare on the street is technically illegal for livery cabs. The driver can be ticketed up to $350 if they get caught at the first offense. But residents regularly hail livery cabs and drivers, who cannot solely depend on service calls, regularly pick them up to make ends meet. Service calls often bring no more than $35 for a half day, many drivers said.
If the new bill passes as a law, the one thing livery cab drivers won’t have to worry about any more is getting tickets for picking up hails