‘Borough Taxis’ address longstanding problem
Lack of Yellow Cabs in B’klyn Have Made Many Turn Green
By now, most readers know that the state Court of Appeals last week upheld the city’s establishment of “borough taxis,” or street-hail livery cabs, in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Staten Island and Upper Manhattan.
The green-colored cabs will be authorized to pick up passengers from the street in these areas, but not in Lower or Midtown Manhattan or the airports. They will have meters, just like yellow cabs, however.
According to Allan Fromberg of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the TLC is wasting no time – it will be “sitting down with” livery-car drivers who want to obtain the new licenses starting this week.
With this development, it seems, the city is finally giving up the pretense that yellow cabs serve the entire city.
Older New Yorkers, however, may remember a time when yellow cabs did serve the outer boroughs, and did so heavily. This reporter, who grew up in the Bronx, has a family photo that shows cabs lined up in front of a movie theater on 231st Street in Kingsbridge in the 1970s. Even today, there are some exceptions to the rule – most notably Barclays Center.
Many observers have blamed the lack of yellow cabs in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens on drivers’ fear of crime. While this may be the case, the truth may have more to do with “dollars and cents,” according to Fromberg.
While yellow-cab drivers to have to drive passengers everywhere, he says, “they don’t have to cruise everywhere. They want to go where there’s a quick turnover, where the minute they let someone out of the car, someone else is waiting to get in. Outside Manhattan, most of the boroughs don’t have that kind of demand.”
In some cases, locations in the Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx where many yellow cabs are seen happen to be near taxi garages. For example, one such garage, Malcolm Management Co., is on Fourth Avenue in Boerum Hill. Many of its cabs go through Brooklyn Heights on the way to the Brooklyn Bridge, to the advantage of Heights residents.
Michael Woloz, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade – which sued the city over the plan – gave other reasons for the relative lack of yellow cabs outside Manhattan.
“Over time,” he said, “the livery and car service industry really exploded. Those vehicles are supposed to do only radio work, but many of them just decided to pick up passengers [illegally]. And more and more and more livery cabs started picking up passengers at shopping hubs in the boroughs, making it less and less attractive for yellow cabs – most of whose drivers start their days in outer boroughs.”
He also said that those yellow-cab drivers who do attempt to pick up passengers outside Midtown and Lower Manhattan are sometimes intimidated by livery-car drivers. He supported the development of cab stands, or locations reserved for yellow cabs waiting for passengers.
These stands, said Fromberg, “are usually set up by the Department of Transportation where there is a greater demand for cab service.” In some cases, he added, community boards request cab stands in their areas.
“The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade funded a cab stand in Flushing, supervised by a dispatcher, for close to nine years as a pilot program. It was a very successful experiment,” said Woloz. “The problem is that we’re not in the position to fund more taxi stands through the city.”
According to the TLC web site, there are only two taxicab stands in Brooklyn: one on North Sixth Street in Williamsburg and the other on Fourth Avenue in Boerum Hill.
Woloz had doubts about whether the “borough taxi” plan would work. “Will they [livery cab drivers] be willing to pay a $1,500 fee, paint their cabs green and put in a meter?” he asked. More important, he wondered whether they would be able to restrain themselves from picking up fares in Manhattan (aside from Upper Manhattan) and at the airports.
However, the organization that represents the owners of those livery car services – Livery Base Owners Inc. – issued a statement that enthusiastically supported the new plan.
“After years of hard work and advocacy, we are thrilled that legislation to expand street-hail taxi service has been upheld by the State’s highest court,” said Cira Angeles, spokeswoman for the groups. “This is a major victory for New Yorkers in the outer boroughs and Upper Manhattan who have been denied taxi service for too long.”
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