U-Turn: Taxi Owners Quit Fighting Caps

December 6, 2012
Marc Bussanich

The taxi drivers of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance won a historic victory in the summer when the Taxi & Limousine Commission ruled for the first time to impose caps on how much taxi owners can charge drivers for leases on medallions and cars.

The drivers also won a fare increase, but just when the caps were to take effect, the taxi companies filed for an injunction in court. However, on Wednesday, December 5, the taxi drivers’ victory was solidified when the companies withdrew their challenge.

Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the 16,000-member of NYTWA, said the alliance felt strong that in the end they’d prevail.

“The struggle to win a lease cap has been outstanding for almost a decade. The victory in the summer was a milestone, and today’s legal victory is icing on the cake,” said Desai.
The taxi companies, represented by the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, challenged the TLC’s new cap rules by arguing in court that they violated the contract clause of the United States Constitution. But then they abruptly withdrew their challenge with prejudice, which precludes the MTBOT from initiating any subsequent legal action and binds them to compliance.

While the TLC’s new cap rules reduces the amount drivers have to fork over to the taxi owners for the medallion and vehicle lease, the drivers, particularly driver-owned vehicle operators, still have to pay approximately $1,400 per week, notwithstanding expenses for maintenance, insurance and fuel.

"Drivers work six or seven hours in a 12-hour shift just to break even on the lease. It’s such a difficult industry; the drivers have to work so hard for sometimes $100 or less,” Desai said.
The alliance fought hard for a lower cap, but Desai noted that just winning a cap after years of arbitrary increases by the taxi industry is significant.

“Before the TLC’s decision, taxi owners would arbitrarily raise the drivers’ leases by $50 or more per week. The decision is a significant step forward for drivers because they don’t have guaranteed income and their livelihoods aren’t protected by minimum wage laws and they’re not covered by collective bargaining. The TLC regulations are all we have for protection.”
She also noted that the 16,000-member alliance, despite the legal victory, will have to remain on guard because the taxi industry is a mighty political force.

“We have to be truly vigilant and the drivers have to continue to organize. We won in court today, but the taxi companies have such unbridled political influence that they’ll continue to lobby the TLC or any other part of city government,” said Desai.

December 6, 2012

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