Protestors Gather in New York as City Council Tries to Freeze Uber’s Growth

MANHATTAN — As we’ve covered here at Opportunity Lives, Uber’s wildfire success has met regulatory detractors, though stalwarts from both the right and the left have fought to protect the innovative service Uber and other apps provide via the sharing economy.

The latest chapter in this saga unfolded last week, as Uber hosted a protest outside of New York City Hall to speak out against the City Council Transportation Committee, which brought a bill that would only allow Uber to add some 200 new licenses (or 1 percent of its current number of drivers) from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). Uber gave free rides to any Uber customer who wanted to participate. A spokeswoman estimated some 60 people showed up, both Uber drivers and users.

“So what is this really about?” Josh Mohrer, general Manager of Uber New York, said in protest remarks provided to Opportunity Lives. “Well that’s an easy one. It’s about stifling competition for the taxi industry. It’s about putting the interests of medallion millionaires above those of New York’s riders and drivers and the 10,000 jobs that will be lost if this bill passes. It’s about freezing a fast growing transportation alternative that 25,000 New Yorkers try for the first time every week. It’s about blaming 1% of the city’s most efficient vehicles and blaming them for the congestion problem caused by 2.7 million cars entering the city each day. It’s about making it harder to get a ride to or from underserved areas like the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, and going back to the taxi drivers that so often won’t take you there.”

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Josh Morher (at podium), general manager of Uber New York, addresses the crowd outside of New York City Hall. | Photo: Uber

Bill sponsors say that they are seeking to limit the environmental impact of for-hire vehicles and say that while they study traffic congestion they need to freeze Uber’s growth.

Yet, as “2.7 million cars enter Manhattan each day, and Uber represents less than 1% of them. Is that really the problem?” Mohrer said. “And if the aim is to study congestion to try and better understand the causes, why halt our growth and kill 10,000 jobs in the process?  There is absolutely no precedent to freeze the subject of a study. Of the 25 studies listed on the Department of Transportation website, none — not even one — had a simultaneous freeze of the subject during the study. It’s simply not something they’ve done before.”

Mohrer also said Uber agrees that more work can be done to prevent congestion, and that “Tech innovations like uberPOOL can help New Yorkers get around the city while taking 1 million cars off the road. We have asked to partner with the administration on these initiatives and more – our door has always been open. But does it really make sense to artificially limit New Yorkers’ opportunities to ride? Does it really make sense to say that Uber drivers and riders are the only cause for the age-old problem of congestion – especially since it existed long before Uber came to New York?”

While the New York City Council and Mayor Bill DeBlasio are notoriously liberal, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, himself a Democrat, has proven to be a check on DeBlasio’s leftward agenda on matters such as charter schools and crime. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has helped protect the innovation economy by pushing back against a proposed rule from the TLC that would restrict Uber, Lyft and other shared car service apps. Activists hope the state could step in again and prevent this latest perceived government overreach.

“This legislation, if enacted, would destroy 10,000 job opportunities for New Yorkers, especially those living in Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx and Upper Manhattan, and it would result in longer wait times, higher prices, and less reliable service for riders,” Uber’s policy team wrote in a post. “The overwhelming majority of current Uber driver-partners are from neighborhoods with higher unemployment than the city as a whole, and the taxi industry’s own statistics note that more than 90% of for-hire drivers are immigrants. That’s 10,000 New Yorkers denied an opportunity to earn an income thanks to a proposal made by medallion-owning millionaires.”

Carrie Sheffield is the Senior Writer at Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.