“…New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is unlikely to seek a cap on growth in for-hire car services such as Uber… the administration doesn’t want another high-profile fight with the company. Uber last summer mounted a multipronged political offensive against the proposed cap on the size of its for-hire fleet…Uber launched a “De Blasio’s Uber” feature on its app to protest the New York City mayor’s proposal to limit the number of Uber drivers on the city streets…”
New York Preparing to Release Study on For-Hire Vehicles
Administration is unlikely to seek cap on Uber’s growth
By Josh Dawsey and Andrew Tangel
Wall Street Journal
December 2, 2015
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration is unlikely to seek a cap on growth in for-hire car services such as Uber, a proposal that failed to gain traction after Mr. de Blasio floated it last summer, according to people familiar with the matter.
City Hall is weighing a variety of recommendations, including requiring Uber and other for-hire car services to pay a surcharge. Photo: Andrew Hinderaker for The Wall Street Journal
City Hall is expected this month to release the results of a study exploring whether growth in Uber and other for-hire vehicle trips is contributing to worsening congestion in Manhattan’s central business district.
As officials and consultants prepare the report, City Hall is weighing a variety of recommendations, including requiring Uber and other services to pay a surcharge.
People familiar with the matter say the administration doesn’t want another high-profile fight with the company. Uber last summer mounted a multipronged political offensive against the proposed cap on the size of its for-hire fleet.
Uber launched a “De Blasio’s Uber” feature on its app to protest the New York City mayor’s proposal to limit the number of Uber drivers on the city streets. Photo: Tom Vigliotta/The Wall Street Journal
The city’s traffic report was commissioned after that fight. The $2 million study is being completed by the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. along with Bruce Schaller, a former top city transportation and taxi official.
Some people familiar with the matter expect the report will blame Uber and for-hire companies for some of Manhattan’s congestion. But another person familiar with the study cautioned that those preparing it hadn’t reached any firm conclusions, adding “things are still really in flux.”
Uber declined to comment. It has disputed claims it was contributing to Manhattan congestion. It also complained a cap would limit its growth and endanger the increasingly popular, app-driven transportation option it offers.
As City Hall finesses its approach to Uber, it is also is trying to settle on its posture toward Airbnb, another San Francisco company that has grown quickly even as it stoked fierce competition in the marketplace. Airbnb lists private homes available for short stays.
Both companies are opposed by some in longtime city industries—yellow-cab owners for Uber, the hotel trades for Airbnb—that have given generously to Mr. de Blasio and other politicians. Both companies are looking for more favorable regulations from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state. Airbnb founders also contributed to the Democratic mayor’s 2013 election campaign.
- Uber vs. City Hall, Round Two (Sept. 16)
- De Blasio Hits a Few Bumps on Transportation Issues (Aug. 27)
- War With Uber Hurt de Blasio With Allies (July 30)
- New York City’s Yellow Taxis Face Trouble (July 23)
Uber is pushing to do business with few fees and limits in New York City but is especially concerned that a cap to limit the size of its fleet would prevent it from meeting demand. Mr. de Blasio’s proposal on the cap died last summer, as the City Council declined to vote on it. At the time, mayoral aides said the idea could be revived later—even after the completion of the traffic study.
Airbnb is particularly concerned about an increased crackdown on owners of houses or apartments with whom they work who may rent their spaces for less than 30 days without being present, which is technically illegal. The company, however, has been less combative in challenging City Hall than Uber.
Uber has begun to aggressively lobby City Council members, speaking to more than 20 of those who serve on the 51-member body in recent weeks.
The company is against any limit or regulation, including on its policy of charging more for rides when demand is high.
Uber also has begun to lobby upstate lawmakers as it expands to other cities. Uber and rival Lyft have expressed support for a statewide licensing system for car-service companies, for which Mr. Cuomo has voiced support.
It remains to be seen how such a system might complicate or potentially trump any city regulations.
City Hall has convened meetings in recent months, often run by Dominic Williams, the chief of staff to Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris.
“We’ve been clear about our priorities: expanding accessibility for the disabled, securing support for public transit, protecting drivers and passengers, and managing congestion. We will put forward a framework this month that addresses those objectives,” said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the de Blasio administration.
A central question for the study is whether it can link significant growth in Uber and other for-hire vehicle trips to worsening Manhattan congestion—and if so, to what degree.
Data showing taxi, Uber and other for-hire vehicle trips don’t provide an easily decipherable picture of Manhattan’s congestion and its causes. One question has been whether Uber trips are replacing taxi rides, adding to the overall number of vehicle trips in Manhattan or a combination of both.
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City officials are trying to make clear the study isn’t just about Uber and will detail wider recommendations.
Meanwhile, City Hall officials met earlier this month with Chris Lehane, a top official from Airbnb. They also have met with officials of the hotel trades union, whose members work for an industry under threat by Airbnb.
Airbnb released data Tuesday that it said showed most of its users weren’t breaking city laws regarding the renting of their homes. Some City Council members have accused Airbnb of propping up what amount to sham hotels because their owners may not be present when guests stay there.
Write to Josh Dawsey at email@example.com