As expected, New York City Council has approved a one-year cap on ride-hailing services like Uber, along with a minimum wage for their drivers. The situation is very different from places like Spain, where taxi drivers are demanding that the number of licenses for ride-hail vehicles be kept below that of taxis, in some cases citing absurd and arbitrary ratios such as one license for every 30 taxis: in New York, which has a total of 13,587 taxi licenses, the number of vehicles operated by companies such as Uber or Lyft now exceeds 100,000, and generates 65% more rides than taxis.
According to some studies, the number of vehicles available for transport was increasing traffic congestion and putting drivers in unsustainable situations: several drivers, from both taxis and ride-hail vehicles, have recently committed suicide due to the progressive worsening of their job conditions. New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, tweeted on Wednesday night:
Our city is directly confronting a crisis that is driving working New Yorkers into poverty and our streets into gridlock. The unchecked growth of app-based for-hire vehicle companies has demanded action — and now we have it.”
The problem, obviously, is to what extent a one-year cap on licenses will help. Uber and Lyft can survive restrictions of this type even if they are applied in other US cities, but the real issue here is not in the number of vehicles available, but that in a year, when the cap is lifted, New York will still be gridlocked. Uber and Lyft argue that the cap will worsen congestion in the city by reducing transportation options available, making it more difficult to get around, especially in outlying neighborhoods and for the less-well-off, but the truth is that while city dwellers prefer a hyperabundance of transportation options, excess supply is harmful, meaning that instead of taking the subway or bus, people pile into large black automobiles that are probably driven by people being paid a pittance. A few decades ago, a taxi license was a way to join the middle classes, now it’s a passport to misery and exploitation.
There are several aspects to this transition: firstly, this is an interim situation, the few short years that will elapse until autonomous vehicles take over. This is a process that has already begun in some U.S. cities. Eliminating drivers from the equation will solve one of the problems: transporting people and goods around city should not be an activity for humans. But even when automation takes over, there is still the problem of dissuading people not to own cars. The real problem in New York and most American cities is not that there are too many ride-hail vehicles and that the concession of licenses needs to be frozen, but that there are not enough disincentives for using our cars. This will only improve when city councils realize that they need to introduce draconian measures to restrict access to large parts of the city to public transport, vehicle fleets or options such as bicycles and scooters, and make the use of private automobiles as inconvenient as possible.
It is no easy matter finding the right balance to a city’s transport needs. But attacking the problem simply by restricting just one element, without taking into account the impact of others will not provide the answer. Congestion in our cities will disappear when we understand that most of them were designed for the automobile, and that we must now redesign them to accommodate other types of use, possibly banning all or most street parking and allocating space for other uses, shifting from the idea of the car as a product to that of a service, and improving public transportation options. The key to change is automation, and because automation saves money, it will win out in the end.
A one-year cap on ride-hailing licenses in New York isn’t going to help find the transportation balance the city has been lacking for many years. The discussion is no longer about the number of such licenses, but instead accepting that we must completely rethink our cities and the way we move around them, with all that entails regarding long-established habits, patterns and models established over decades.
More Info: www.forbes.com