We Wouldn’t Be Talking About a Cap on Uber if…

Although the Tri-State Transportation Campaign rarely weighs in on issues relating to taxis and livery cars, the debate taking place in New York City regarding a cap on for-hire vehicles has grown to include topics well within the scope of Mobilizing the Region.

For-hire vehicle traffic has grown dramatically in New York City, with 25,000 new for-hire vehicles added since 2011. With approximately 19,000 vehicles, Uber is by far the largest car-hailing service in New York City, and it’s growing (Uber-affiliated cars now outnumber traditional taxis). A City Council bill would limit new for-hire vehicle licenses to a growth rate of one percent for at least a year while the City studies the impact for-hire vehicle traffic is having.

Uber has responded to the proposal with “an all-out attack” including a “de Blasio” feature within the app itself and a suggestion from the company’s New York General Manager that perhaps bike lanes, not the company’s thousands of vehicles, are responsible for increased congestion in the city.

E-hail and ride-share services like Uber, Gett and Lyft play an important role in helping people get around without having to own a car, especially in places not well-served by transit or yellow cabs. And even Mayor de Blasio agrees that Uber “is helping provide more and better service.” But the upside of having more on-demand car service at our disposal comes with the downside of increased congestion.

But congestion isn’t exactly a new problem in New York City. Could restricting the growth of Uber help curb congestion? Maybe. But one thing is for sure: we wouldn’t be having this conversation if the city had tackled congestion in earnest back when “uber” was just a word pretentious Anglophones used in place of “very.” Here are a few ideas to ponder in the (short) time before the City Council votes on whether to place a cap on Uber’s growth:

Congestion Pricing

There’s nary a better idea that’s been presented to date which would address congestion in Manhattan’s central business district while simultaneously raising sorely-needed funding for transit. The Move NY plan, which would implement tolls on the (now free) East River bridges and charge drivers who travel south of 60th Street, is getting more and more support as elected officials realize this is the most comprehensive plan to reduce congestion in Manhattan.

Residential Parking Permits

New York is one of the only major American cities that doesn’t have a residential parking permit program. Real estate is some of the most expensive in the nation, yet you can store a vehicle absolutely free of cost on the streets of New York City. In San Francisco, another crowded, expensive city, residents pay $111 a year for parking permits. Drivers in New York, one study found, would be willing to pay more than three times as much if it meant finding a space would be easier. A parking permit program wouldn’t just free up curbside space; drivers who are looking for a parking spot account for 28 to 45 percent of traffic in areas where on-street parking is under-priced.

Better Transit

The MTA’s struggles are hardly news anymore, but you know things are getting bad when the head of the pro-transit General Contractors Association of New York trades her subway commute for Uber. Perhaps e-hail and ride-share services wouldn’t be so popular if the MTA was better funded, and if there was more political will to move beyond bus lanes and transform the city’s streets into transit corridors. The last word goes to the Manhattan Institute’s Nicole Gelinas:

If the city’s rail, bus and subway systems keep deteriorating, more people will opt for a car.

[…]

If the mayor doesn’t want people riding around in air-conditioned black-SUV splendor, he and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to think hard about subways. (It’s good for New York City that the two men work so well together.)

And buses, too — Manhattan should have more traffic lanes for buses that carry way more people than cars, with strict enforcement.

3 Comments on "We Wouldn’t Be Talking About a Cap on Uber if…"

  1. J. Ohanian | July 22, 2015 at 1:45 pm |

    E-hail and ride sharing are but one component of a multi-modal urban transportation system. The others, of course, are public transportation, traditional cabs and limos, neighborhood shuttles, car sharing, etc. Anything that helps people get around efficiently, and is more efficient than car ownership, is meritorious and should be encouraged. This “Uber v. Taxi” war is petty and political, and the only people who truly suffer are the people who depend on them for transportation.

    What’s really needed in New York is a serious look at how road space is allocated. Restrictions on single occupant vehicles in certain areas and at certain times may need to be seriously considered.

  2. From WNYC today: “Uber called the deal ‘great news for riders and drivers’,” completely ignoring the majority of New Yorkers who are neither riders nor drivers but who are walkers, mass transit users, cyclists, and just people who have useful and pleasant things they could be doing on city streets uncongested with “riders and drivers.” Is what’s specifically good for drivers & riders also good for New York and New Yorkers? (Or for increasingly walking, busing, bike-sharing tourists?) Not likely.

  3. Clark Morris | July 27, 2015 at 8:31 pm |

    As long as streets are primarily financed by the property tax, bicycle riders have as much right to lanes as do motor vehicles because neither are paying for them unlike state highway which are at least in part funded though vehicle related taxes. It will always be a political decision how to use limited street space. Parking wars anyone.

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