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Bumpy Road Ahead for Black Cars as Adams’ TLC Reverses de Blasio Plan on New Licenses

The Taxi and Limousine Commission last week yanked a potential lifeline tossed to the battered livery car industry during Bill de Blasio’s final days in City Hall — and livery leaders fear the move could lead to a “death sentence” for the shrinking sector.

The TLC’s March 23 decision to not issue any new for-hire vehicle licenses for six months comes after then-mayor de Blasio said in December that issuing new licenses was “an idea whose time has come” for “an indispensable sector of this industry.”

De Blasio’s push followed a Dec. 22 report from the TLC’s Black Car and Livery Task Force that chronicled the long-running collapse of the livery car industry in Upper Manhattan and the boroughs and recommended increasing the number of base-affiliated cars.

“I urge the Commission to move forward with it in the new year,” de Blasio said at the time.

But the TLC last week went in another direction, saying the existing fleet of livery cars already exceeds passenger demand and that putting more non-wheelchair-accessible rides on the road will increase congestion.

“With [the] decision to extend the [for-hire vehicle] license pause, TLC continues to prioritize the long-term health of the taxi and for-hire vehicle industries, the drivers and the riding public,” Ryan Wanttaja, the acting TLC commissioner, said last week.

The commission will instead issue new licenses only to cars that are wheelchair accessible, which are more expensive. THE CITY reported this month that the TLC did not meet its mandate to make 50% of all yellow taxis accessible to people in wheelchairs or scooters by 2020, a deadline pushed back to next year.

“What they are exercising is a kill over our industry,” Avik Kabessa, CEO of Carmel Car Service and a board member of The Livery Round Table, told THE CITY. “This is not a cap, this is a death sentence and on top of it, they ignore loss of livery permits due to COVID-19.”

Livery vehicles operate almost exclusively outside of Manhattan, from dispatch bases, and accept cash, while cars for app-based ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft only accept card payments. Neither can pick up passengers on the street, like yellow cabs can.

The most recent TLC data shows there were 5,112 livery cars in January  — a 73% drop from six years earlier, when there were more than 18,782. And the January number was down 99  from December, the data reveals.

‘A Much-Needed Service’

Cira Angeles, who served on the Black Car and Livery Task Force and is the spokesperson for the Livery Base Owners Association, argued they are an invaluable resource in city neighborhoods in the boroughs and Upper Manhattan that are not served by yellow taxis.

“These are drivers that serve underserved communities where yellow taxis and others do not work,” Angeles told THE CITY. “We need more licenses to serve these communities, otherwise, we are going to be decimated.”

The December report said 97% of livery trips since June 2017 originated outside of Manhattan.

Angeles said the loss of thousands of licenses since 2015 has resulted in livery bases being unable to respond to 40% of calls.

“It is a sad situation,” she said. “We can’t provide a much-needed service in our boroughs.”

Livery car services say it’s tougher for them to compete with taxis and ride-hail apps and lower customer wait times when they don’t have enough cars.

At the Azteca Express base on 53rd Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, dispatcher Javier Rivera said phones that five or six years ago rang every minute now can go silent for several minutes at a time.

¿Dónde estás, amigo?” Rivera asked, when a phone in the dispatch room rang with a customer requesting a ride from Bay Ridge.

“Honestly, everybody’s biting their nails from nerves, because the whole industry is bad, bad, really bad,” said Rivera. “Right now, everybody is saying they’re not making enough money to take home or to meet their expenses.”

A few blocks north on Fifth Avenue, at Sunset Park Car Service, dispatcher Johnny Lopez said the pandemic and rising fuel and maintenance costs have piled onto the fallout that began several years ago due to competition from app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.

“It’s bad, or worse,” he said. “There isn’t a lot of hope.”

Kabessa, of the Livery Round Table and Carmel, said he’d prodded de Blasio to call for issuing a targeted number of new licenses. He’s now urging the Adams administration to act, and said the city is now missing a “golden opportunity” to come to the rescue of the livery industry.

“The minimum the city should do is allow businesses to recover in permits some of the business they lost to COVID,” he said.

This article was originally posted on Bumpy Road Ahead for Black Cars as Adams’ TLC Reverses de Blasio Plan on New Licenses

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