All this week, NY1 is taking a look at the politics of the taxi industry, which has bitterly opposed many of the initiatives put forth by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is now counting on Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to change course. Bobby Cuza filed the following report.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has sought to remake the taxi industry, from his attempt to convert to all hybrid taxis to the so-called Taxi of Tomorrow to the green taxis now making street pickups outside central Manhattan. In every case, his efforts have met with fierce opposition from within the industry and litigation.
“We don’t have any beef with the administration. You know, the administration has a beef with us,” said Gene Freidman, CEO of Taxi Club Management.
Freidman manages almost 1,000 yellow taxis. Most of the city’s more than 13,000 taxi medallions are owned not by drivers, but owners and agents, many of whom control large fleets. Medallions are now worth more than a million dollars apiece, bringing not just wealth, but also political power.
“After the real estate industry, the taxi industry is probably the most active participant in New York city local politics. It’s big business,” said Chairman of the Taxi & Limousine Commission David Yassky.
Yassky says the mayor has pursued what’s best for the public, but industry players say they feel shut out.
“The mayor himself has never once, in all of his 12 years, met with industry representatives. Not once,” said Ethan Gerber of Greater NY Taxi Association.
Gerber’s group has sued nine times and often won, leading to further hostility.
After one court defeat, a profanity-laced confrontation at a Knicks game sparked headlines, with Bloomberg allegedly telling Freidman, “after January I am going to destroy all you [expletive deleted] guys.”
“He was a little bit upset. He was a little bit upset. You know, I was actually a little bit shocked,” said Freidman.
David Pollack’s industry group has also taken the city to court.
“The best thing about this administration is there’s just about a week left to it and then there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said David Pollack of the Committee for Taxi Safety.
That light at the end of the tunnel is the incoming mayor. A frequent critic of Bloomberg’s taxi policies, Bill de Blasio has been rewarded with hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the industry. He says that’ll have no impact on his decision-making, but the industry says it at least expects him to listen, which is more than they say the current administration has done.