As the L-Pocalypse looms and the L train shuts down for 15 weekends starting this weekend, the City Council’s vote to put a cap on the number of ride-share cars is not welcome news to many in North Brooklyn. As local businesses already face the challenge of retaining customers over the course of the 15-month L Train Shutdown, we wonder how limiting the number of ride-share cars will affect local businesses and workers.
Over the years as the neighborhood’s population has exploded, North Brooklyn has seen a higher number of yellow cabs cruise through the neighborhood—and in fact, we house many of them here—but still nowhere near the number of yellow cabs you see on the streets of Manhattan. Before Uber and Lyft came to town, there were a handful of local car services like Northside, Java, or Metroline you’d call to get a ride somewhere, often paying a flat cash fee that included tip. And those drivers usually knew the best back streets to take to get you to JFK in about half an hour.
These days, getting a cab is as easy as pressing a few buttons on your phone without having to wait on hold or talk to anyone or give your credit card info—and in North Brooklyn, a 1-minute or less wait for an Uber or Lyft (or Juno, or Via) is common. But often, drivers of ride-share vehicles are not local to your neighborhood and are blindly following robotic-voiced directions on their phones. (Ed note: Northside and Metroline have their own apps, and you can book online with Java).
New York City currently has more than 100k ride-share vehicles on the streets, compared with less than 15k yellow cabs. Six yellow cab drivers have committed suicide in the last few years—depressed and traumatized about not being able to pay their bills—while Uber and Lyft drivers of all ages, races and backgrounds have raked in some extra side hustle cash.
The suicides, combined with general concern about traffic congestion and lack of regulation prompted the city to do something about this rapid explosion of vehicles on our streets that have very visibly threatened the livelihoods of thousands of Yellow Cab drivers—who are still iconic of New York City. Two months ago almost 150 taxi medallions hit the bankruptcy auction block. According to Curbed, “In 2013, a medallion was worth as much as $1.3 million, however, competition from ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft has driven medallion prices down to as low as $160,000.” According to the Post, earnings for Yellow Cab drivers have plummeted to $29k per year by some estimates.
The legislation passed on Wednesday will require ride-share companies to purchase a for-hire vehicle license (or face a $10k penalty) currently set at $275 per car, exempting wheelchair accessible vehicles from a fee, and requires the TLC to set a minimum wage for ride-share drivers. And, of course, the cap. The law also says that no new licenses (except for accessible vehicles) will be given out for one year, while the TLC conducts a transportation study. New York is the first major city to impose a limit on the number of ride-share vehicles. In response, Uber says it’s planning to recruit the tens of thousands of drivers who already own a valid for-hire-vehicle license. The company, currently the highest valued startup at $68 billion, was a staunch opponent of the bill, launching an ad campaign to drum up support against it.
A 2018 TLC study found that setting a minimum wage for ride-share drivers to $17.22 per hour would increase driver net pay by 22.5%. And by instituting a minimum wage for drivers, Uber and Lyft would take less of a cut. It would, “…substantially reduce growth in the number of new drivers and vehicles and provide some indirect benefits for medallion drivers.” According to Mashable, “Lyft said it supports a livable wage for its drivers and is already paying close to the $17.22 minimum hourly rate (after expenses) to its drivers.”
It’s a fact that more ride-hailing apps means more cars on the streets, which in turn creates more traffic and congestion. City bus routes are affected (if you ride the B62 you know this is true), and of course first responders and emergency service workers can be delayed too. Jon Orcutt, the director of communications and advocacy at TransitCenter, says we are currently in “our worst transportation crisis in decades.”
Of course, all of this is happening above ground and that’s not the only way New Yorkers travel. In April of 2019 the L Train will shut down for repairs for 15 months, forcing thousands of Brooklynites to find a different way to get into Manhattan. The MTA’s plans have been heavily criticized, with many arguing that they have only accounted for a fraction of workers who will need to get into the city every day. The Village Voice calls it a “recipe for gridlock.” Some North Brooklyn lifers shrug their shoulders while they wait for rents to drop and café crowds to thin out.
The full magnitude of the L-pocalypse and the effect on our daily commutes to Manhattan remains to be seen. We do know, however, that it’s going to be epic. The shutdown will have its own documentary, already has a news series on Vice, and has been making national news. And there have been plenty of crazy-not-so-crazy alternatives to the subway proposed.
Local business owners are none too happy about the shutdown either, knowing that without the daily influx of tourists coming into the neighborhood and with some residents moving out of the neighborhood entirely, their business will drop. Maybe even to 2008 levels. With a ride-share cap in addition to the shutdown, many businesses who rely on people from outside the neighborhood—restaurants, entertainment venues, retail establishments—will certainly feel a pinch. But others ask, is the idea of less people coming into the neighborhood really a bad thing? Isn’t the neighborhood overcrowded as it is? It’s a complicated issue.
Greenpointers, we want to know how the ride-share cap and the shutdown will affect you. Are you a business owner or a Lyft driver? Let us know how you feel in the comments.