No Scarcity of Options for Getting Around, Says NYC Council Member Working to Slow Uber's Growth

Stephen Levin wants to cap the number of livery cars while the city studies their environmental impact.


A woman hailing a taxi cab
ooznu / Flickr

"I don't think that anyone who lives in New York right now is saying that there's a scarcity of options for for-hire vehicles," says New York City Council Member Stephen Levin, who represents Brooklyn. "It's not hard anywhere in my district at all to find some type of either [outer-burrough] cab, Lyft, Uber, or livery within a matter of minutes, at any time."

Levin has introduced legislation to limit the rate at which livery and black-car service providers are allowed to grow. Specifically, he wants to cap the number of new cars that can be affiliated with a large "base station," like one of Uber's, to 1 percent per year while the city conducts a study on their environmental and other impacts.

Interested parties can voice their opinion at a hearing next week, but for his part Levin thinks people already have plenty of ways to get around.

I'd be curious to know whether New Yorkers agree.

Levin's constituents' reaction to his proposal apparently hasn't been pretty. He acknowledges Uber's customers are making their dissatisfaction known. "I've gotten several hundred emails in the last two hours from Uber patrons," he says. "I'm getting a lot of tweets and emails and phone calls to the office." He believes the attention came after the company sent an email to their users in his district, asking them to oppose the proposal.

I haven't seen polling data on whether city dwellers (and visitors) are satisfied with the transportation options currently available to them. But perhaps there's other evidence we could look to—like, I don't know, the fact that ride-booking services are registering so many new cars in the first place, which pretty convincingly suggests that people's needs aren't yet being met.

"About 25,000 black and livery cars have been added to the streets since 2011, when Uber began operating in New York City," according to a story from the New York Post. Incidentally, that's the same data point Levin is pointing to as justification for (temporarily) stalling the industry's growth.

"New licenses for for-hire vehicles are being issued, right now, left unchecked, at 2,000 a month," he says. "And there are environmental impacts to that, because you have 25,000 new cars on the road that are driving around all the time. There is an impact to congestion, which slows down city buses, for example…There could be health impacts, potentially, with asthma rates. Regardless, it's something that needs to be studied."

Of course, he doesn't want to study what's happening naturally over time—his plan would all but freeze the industry while the Council evaluates things as they are today. Otherwise, he says, "if you were to allow the same rate of increase to continue during the course of the study, the findings would be obsolete by the time they come out."

I asked Levin why livery companies would be adding 2,000 cars every month if there weren't a "scarcity of options" in New York.

"Um…because…I mean, I don't know," he says. "I think that's one thing the study can look at."

UPDATE: Uber's Matt Wing sends the following statement: "Three months ago, the taxi industry put forward a proposal to protect the status quo, and limit competition and innovation. Today, the de Blasio administration and City Councilmembers revived a nearly identical proposal. Unfortunately, this would reverse improvements made by Uber and others to our transportation system and most notably, stand between New Yorkers looking for work and their opportunity to make a better living."

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    Government must make it easier for people to decide!

    1. How can I possibly choose between this many brands of deodorant?

  2. And to study environmental impacts…

    They tip the hand that environmentalism is merely for control, the reason to pull people over to the side of the road. They don’t even hide the mendacity.

    1. I didn’t catch that at first. I am certain that they will find ride-sharing to be environmentally damaging while taxis make Bambi happy.

  3. There is no shortage of central planners in New York City!

    1. “There’s no scarcity, so let’s create some!”

  4. That was a beautiful burn there at the end. Very good way to highlight that he doesn’t know anything about what he is talking about.

  5. We only need 18 choices

    1. 18? That’s at least one too many. I say 17 should be the limit.

      1. 10, there’s no reason to have more choices than you have fingers.

        1. Does anyone really NEED 10 choices?

        2. Being a fingers and toes man, I’ll change my answer to 20.

  6. You can’t use the market as evidence of anything. A politician’s feelings are more appropriate gauges. Also, the thickness of his wallet. That’s a good measurement of the needs of his constituency at any given time.

  7. I thought Uber was just supposed to be a way for someone going somewhere to make a little cash by picking up someone who might be going to somewhere along the same travel route. Apparently there are drivers who do nothing other than drive for Uber. Is that right, or are government douchebags just trying to make it seem that way?

    1. Nope, its a full time job for a lot of people. Also a lot taxi drivers will do Uber and Lyft on the side if business is running slow.

    2. No, it’s more formalized than that. You get dispatched via a web app. It can be a full time or part time job, whatever the driver chooses. I believe that you can work any time or hours you want. You just log in, indicate you’re working and get paid per ride.

      1. So it’s not really a ride sharing app, it’s a livery app. Is there something else out there that is basically an online hitchhiking app?

        1. Ask Crusty Juggler. I think he has a black panel van or something…

  8. . “It’s not hard anywhere in my district at all to find some type of either [outer-burrough] cab, Lyft, Uber, or livery within a matter of minutes, at any time.”

    behold the empty brainpan that thinks that is a problem.

    1. Well he did go to Brown

  9. Hey “sharing economy”! Share this!

  10. “GET A HORSE!!”

  11. I’d be curious to know whether New Yorkers agree.

    Yes, I can get a livery car at the end of my block in Brooklyn in minutes. The real question is do I want to spend 40 to 50 dollars to get to Queens if the only other legal option is a 2-hour subway ride.

  12. Councilmember Levin has authored legislation that has ensured that ensures that buildings under construction in New York City are using energy efficient lighting. In addition, he has co-sponsored legislation that has reduced the carbon footprint of New York City by requiring all buildings to burn cleaner fuel and also he has also co-sponsored legislation that permanently establishes the New York City Panel on Climate Change and the New York City Climate Change Adaptation Task Force.

    1. The “Tax Everyone of out Town omnibus bill”.

  13. “And there are environmental impacts to that, because you have 25,000 new cars on the road that are driving around all the time. There is an impact to congestion, which slows down city buses, for example.”

    Ah, the go-to excuses to stymie any kind of development. Environment! Congestion!

  14. He’s throwing his hat in the ring for that coveted Bernie Sanders VP candidate slot.

  15. What is a taxi medallion worth again? And, why is that?

    No opportunity for malfeasance there.

  16. I wonder why cab companies haven’t developed apps similar to Uber and Lyft.

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