The Komanoff report seeks to charge ride-hail companies—and not their drivers—11 cents per minute when driving without a customer during peak travel hours—and 5.5 cents per minute during off-peak hours—and argues that the surcharge would reduce the presence of for-hire vehicles in the taxi zone by 10%. The revenue could add up to $80 million in the city coffers, the report said.
“This charge on empty-vehicle time would incentivize the companies to reduce their stockpiling of vehicles in gridlocked Manhattan and nudge ride-hail customers toward less congesting modes of travel,” Komanoff said.
If the idle-driving charge is implemented with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed congestion pricing plan on private cars and trucks, then the travel speeds of cars across the Manhattan Central Business District would jump 20%, and the city would receive $80 million per year in revenue, Komanoff reiterated.
“Stockpiling empty for-hire vehicles in Manhattan is a classic ‘externality’ that gives a slight convenience to Uber and Lyft customers by taking time and efficiency from the public,” Komanoff said. “The modest empty-vehicle charge proposed in the report is an equitable way to fix this imbalance.”
The punitive idle-driving policy suggested by Komanoff would not apply to yellow taxis, a group of drivers who have been devastated by an abrupt decline in consumer activity during the pandemic, after years of losing market share to an ever-expanding for-hire vehicle industry. A rapid decline in the value of yellow taxi medallions—city-issued permits purchased by drivers and taxi owners—changed the fortune of a formerly stable industry, leaving many medallion owners and drivers wallowing in debt and despair.
New documents from the city Taxi and Limousine Commission provided to Crain’s under the Freedom of Information Law demonstrate the extent Uber and Lyft have expanded across New York City at the expense of yellow taxis.
In 2017 alone Uber cars traveled nearly 35 million miles across Midtown’s four transportation zones, including 8.4 million miles of cruising without passengers. Times Square’s Theater District saw 11.7 million miles of Uber traffic in 2017, while Washington Heights saw 6.5 million miles, Williamsburg saw 9.6 million miles, Astoria saw 4 million miles, and Clinton Hill and Clinton East saw 11.2 million miles.
“They’re like that movie, The Blob, the pink stuff eating away at everything,” said Christopher Lynn, the chairman of the TLC from 1996 to 1998.
Today there are only 13,587 yellow taxis in the city, but more than 80,000 for-hire vehicles. Ride-share vehicles account for 32% of all vehicle miles traveled in the Manhattan Central Business District; taxis only account for 19%.
The Komanoff plan could be yet another attempt by City Council to regulate the transportation landscape in Manhattan. It enacted Local Law 149 in August 2018 to rein in the for-hire vehicle industry, a law that Crain’s discovered the TLC failed to fully implement for nearly two years.
Johnson announced his support for the proposal and praised the author of the report.
“As we gear up for the implementation of congestion pricing and continue to fight for safer streets, we need experts like Komanoff to be on the forefront of policy design to ensure the city’s efforts are both effective and enforceable, without burdening drivers struggling to make ends meet,” the council speaker said.
Komanoff’s report will lead to a more effective transportation policy across the city, Johnson said. He said he expects to begin a dialogue on the per-minute congestion charge suggested in the study.
Uber was dismissive in response to the Komanoff report and Johnson’s apparent support for it.
“The City Council already passed this policy nearly two years ago, and it puts the money into drivers’ pockets,” Uber representative Harry Hartfield said, referring to the city’s wage laws.
Lyft said it supports comprehensive congestion pricing but rejected Kamonoff’s approach.
“This particular study is outdated and doesn’t reflect the impact COVID-19 has had on NYC, which is why we encourage the city to better understand how existing rules are impacting New Yorkers before enacting more regulations,” said CJ Macklin, Lyft spokesperson.