Uber fights NY over vehicle limits

It unleashes all-out campaign against mayor's proposal to cap increase in for-hire vehicles

NEW YORK • The ride-booking app Uber is fighting New York's city hall, which wants to keep in check a fleet of vehicles that already far outnumbers the Big Apple's trademark yellow cabs.

The largest US city could vote as early as next week to limit increases in what it calls new for-hire vehicles (FHV) pending a study on their impact on traffic, and in particular traffic jams. The limitation could be severe: an increase of just 1 per cent a year for companies with more than 500 vehicles, and 5 per cent for those with 20 to 499 vehicles.

"What is good for Uber may not be good for New York City," said Mr Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for the mayor's office. He cites figures: More than 20,000 Uber vehicles now operate in New York, compared to 13,587 yellow taxis.

And 2,000 new permits for for-hire vehicles are granted every month, and the FHV fleet, of which Uber cars are just a part, has shot up 63 per cent in size since 2011.

To back up its argument against unleashing more Uber cars, city hall cites such issues as quality of life and public health. It says the average traffic speed in Manhattan has fallen and New York's streets cannot necessarily handle a "tide of new vehicles". Months of talks with Uber have gone nowhere.

  • Some other places where Uber has come under fire

  • Singapore

    The Land Transport Authority is working on regulations covering Uber and similar services. Taxi operators say new players are thriving on unfair competition.

    France

    A law last year banned Uber from putting would-be passengers in touch with unregistered drivers. Uber says the law restricts freedom to do business.

    Germany

    Many Uber services are banned and courts have also ruled that Uber must hold a taxi operator's licence. Uber is appealing.

    The Netherlands

    A court banned UberPop last December and some unlicensed drivers have also been fined.

    Spain

    A court ordered Uber to stop operating because drivers were unauthorised and taking part in unfair competition.

    Belgium

    Uber is illegal in Brussels, but the city plans legalisation next year under strict regulation.

    Britain

    Uber operates as a private car-hire service. Taxi operators argue that Uber's drivers do not have to pass the strict driver tests.

    India

    Delhi banned Uber in December last year after a woman said she was raped by one driver.

    The United States

    Uber is appealing against a California suspension and fine over failure to provide required information about service and operations. Chicago licensed Uber after it agreed to security measures.

    China

    The authorities have banned drivers of private cars from offering services through ride-hailing apps.

    Australia

    New South Wales has declared Uber illegal. In Melbourne, 13 Uber drivers have been charged with operating a commercial passenger vehicle without a licence. Conviction could result in a ban on Uber in Victoria.

Mr David Plouffe, a former aide to President Barack Obama and now chief strategist for Uber, met city officials last week.

In recent days, Uber has gone all out with TV ads, e-mails and petitions accusing Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio of "pushing the agenda of his big taxi donors".

The price of a medallion - the city-issued licence required to operate a yellow cab - has dropped 23 per cent since 2013, when it topped US$1 million (S$1.37 million).

Uber's ads feature drivers from minority ethnic heritages and say the mayor's proposals will destroy over 10,000 jobs. They also depict families in Queens or the Bronx, where it is hard to find a taxi.

Uber users have received an e-mail asking them to sign a petition denouncing the mayor's plans. And a "de Blasio" tab has been added to the Uber app to show users the extra waiting time that they can expect if the Bill limiting expansion of for-hire vehicles wins approval.

"New York overall would not see a reduction in congestion from capping for-hire vehicles using Uber, but instead would halt progress made through technological innovation over the past years," the company said. "Uber technology has helped expand service to those who were previously underserved."

City hall has hit back hard.

"Uber - a US$40 billion corporation - is spending millions on a misleading political campaign to convince New Yorkers that it doesn't need more oversight from the City," First Deputy Mayor Tony Shorris said on Saturday.

"Meanwhile, there are serious questions about how Uber treats its customers, its workers, and whether it is flooding New York City's already heavily crowded streets with thousands more vehicles."

The issue is becoming political, too, as the campaign for the 2016 presidential election takes shape.

Republican hopeful Jeb Bush has defended Uber as providing a "pretty vital service". Democrat Hillary Clinton has stressed that the sharing economy raises questions about protecting people's wage levels.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'Uber fights NY over vehicle limits'. Print Edition | Subscribe