The New York City Council voted Wednesday to put a ceiling on the number of ride-hailing cars—namely from Uber and Lyft—on city streets. New York City is believed to be the first American city to impose such a measure.
“We’ve seen a race to the bottom in terms of wages and in terms of the livelihoods of these drivers, not just in the for-hire vehicle sector but in the yellow cab sector as well,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on NY1, a local news television channel on Wednesday.
“So the Uber business model is ‘flood the market with as many cars and drivers as possible, gain more market share, and to hell with what happens to those drivers or anybody else involved,'” he continued. “And in the end, what that has created is the kind of race to the bottom that has literally driven down wages below minimum-wage level for a lot of Uber drivers and even for other drivers.”
According to , such non-taxi vehicles have exploded in number from 25,000 in 2015 to over 80,000 today. That number dwarfs the 13,500 yellow cabs and 32,000 livery and “black cars.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission has licensed approximately 130,000 vehicles. The new law, which takes effect immediately, means the city will no longer issue new licenses for what it calls “for-hire vehicles” for a period of a year while the city studies the issue further.
The Council’s Committee on For-Hire Vehicles described the industry as “growing unsustainably” and “at crisis level.”
Traditional cab drivers have long advocated for improved working conditions for all drivers—particularly Uber and Lyft drivers, whose relatively low fares are essentially subsidized by venture capital. As more and more drivers hit the streets, it becomes increasingly difficult, many say, to earn a living wage.
In a Monday op-ed in the , driver Tidiane Samassa said that he had been a cab driver in the city for 14 years before he switched to Uber:
At that time, with fewer cars and higher fares, you could make good money. I could take care of my family. I made up to $1,900 a week working eight to nine-hour shifts, six days a week. Then in 2015, they started piling on the cars. And in 2016, they lowered the fares.
Now, there just aren’t enough fares to go around. I work seven days a week, and even driving for 12, 13, or 14 hours each day, I rarely break $1,000 a week—and that’s before expenses. I pay for my car, gas, and vehicle maintenance all out of pocket.
This year, I’ll need a new transmission. That will come out of my income. My expenses just to keep my car on the road sometimes add up to almost half my income.
Uber is not thrilled with the measure. Alix Anfang, an Uber spokeswoman, sent Ars a statement saying that the city’s measure would “threaten one of the few reliable transportation options while doing nothing to fix the subways or ease congestion.”
In an email, Anfang also wrote that Uber would be “reaching out” to the 40,000 TLC-licensed vehicles that are not currently used by Uber drivers.
“This is not a limit on the number of drivers that are allowed to enter the industry—it is a pause on the number of new vehicles,” she said. “Many vehicles sit unused during large portions of the week. We will be reaching out to vehicle owners about allowing new drivers to use the vehicle when the owner is not driving.”
Lyft did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.