Protecting workers in New York City means protecting ride-sharing
The Council is considering measures that would cap the number of ride-sharing vehicles that can be in the city. It would also make drivers pay a $2,000 yearly fee and force drivers to work for one ride-sharing company instead of switching between them to maximize their passengers and their pay.
All of these provisions would harm consumers and drivers, but the last one is especially damaging. Forcing drivers to stay with one company robs them of the ability to change services when one has higher demand and is paying more per mile. Limiting workers’ freedom, depressing their wages and forcing them to stick with a single company is the opposite of progressive, pro-worker public policy.
The new rules are designed to prop up the taxicab industry. Cab drivers have been suffering, and it is impossible to hear stories of cabbies struggling to make a living and not want to do something about it. Yet the taxicab industry – which has always been unfair and exploitive – was poised for disruption when ride-sharing services launched. The industry was run on the medallion system, where the number of taxis was arbitrarily capped by how many medallions were issued. This was an ideal setup for businessmen to exploit workers with the blessing of the city government: Because the demand for rides far exceeded the number of taxis, the price of medallions skyrocketed. So instead of driving cars themselves, owners leased their medallions to drivers for a daily fee. This meant the wealthy owners were guaranteed a profit while drivers were at the mercy of chance.
Protecting this exploitive system should be the last priority of a supposedly-progressive city government. Subjecting ride-sharing drivers them to the kind of regulations that made taxicabs so uncompetitive will only harm consumers and drivers. Consumers will face increased costs, and drivers will have a harder time getting enough passengers to earn a decent living. And, rather than one type of driver suffering, the pain will be spread around to cabbies and ride-sharing drivers alike. It’s the public policy equivalent of helping an amputee by cutting off someone else’s leg.
Ride-sharing services offer drivers more flexibility and more control than the outdated medallion system. They are better for passengers as well, offering a more convenient and less-discriminatory transportation option. Before ride-sharing, taxi drivers regularly discriminated against minority passengers, so much that The New York Times called it, “almost a rite of passage for black men in New York City.” Getting a cab outside of Manhattan, or to go a short distance in bad weather, was next to impossible, as cabbies only accepted trips they thought would pay the highest fares. These practices were enabled by the lack of competition. No matter how much people disliked taxis, if they wanted a car to take them somewhere, taxis were the only option.
Trying to protect taxis is New York City’s version of President Donald Trump’s misguided attempts to preserving coal mining at all costs. Just as those policies stand in the way of alternative energy innovation, so, too, do these pro-taxi-owner regulations stand in the way of a more efficient, fairer on-demand transportation system. The City Council should reject this attempt to turn back the clock on ride-sharing innovation.