Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio joined the taxi industry in seeking to block Mayor Michael Bloomberg's borough taxi initiative, but now that the green cabs are on the streets and proving popular with the public, the issue could become one of the thorniest early challenges facing the incoming mayor. NY1's Bobby Cuza filed the following report, Part Three of his series, "Shifting Gears: An Uncertain Future for Taxis."
Seemingly overnight, they sprouted up everywhere. Now, there are 2,100 green taxis on the road, serving areas where yellow taxis are scarce.
"It's been very successful," said David Yassky, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission. "Drivers are earning good money doing it. Passengers are getting the service they'd never had before."
The green taxis are converted livery cabs. Drivers are charged $1,500 for a license, then pay to have a roof light installed, plus a meter, credit card reader and more. The program legalizes the long-standing illicit practice of liveries making street pickups.
"It's a symbol of legitimacy," said Cira Angeles of the Livery Base Owners Association. "It's a symbol that we are no longer gypsies."
The plan was fiercely opposed by owners of the city's yellow taxi medallions, who are supposed to enjoy the exclusive right to street hails. Green taxis are barred from making pickups at the airports or in Manhattan below East 96th or West 110th Streets.
Yellow cab drivers want more enforcement. Meanwhile, owners of the big car services, like Avik Kabessa of Carmel, say that their business will suffer as drivers ditch pre-arranged pickups to pick up street hails.
"Pre-arranged passengers are being left stranded right now as we speak," Kabessa said.
Bill de Blasio, an outspoken critic of the plan, echoes those concerns. It's been noted that taxi industry groups are some of his biggest fundraisers. He said that he supports Mayor Michael Bloomberg's goals, but not the implementation.
"I think the plan he's put together has a lot of holes in it," he said. "I've said that I'd start over."
Starting over won't be easy. So far, some 6,000 green taxi licenses have been given out. De Blasio could try to slow down the planned issuance of 12,000 more licenses over the next two years or make other tweaks to the program.
Complicating matters is that the program is also tied to the sale of 2,000 new yellow taxi medallions, which is expected to bring more than $1 billion to the city budget.