Diaspora

Opinion: MTA's Congestion Pricing Plan Must Protect the Livelihood of For-Hire Drivers – City Limits

“For-hire driving in New York City has historically provided good-paying work and a path to the middle class for a vast minority immigrant worker base. Over the last decade, that work has slowly been chipped away despite the need for rides remaining high.”
Adi Talwar

Thousands of immigrant New Yorkers will face an economic catastrophe if the top five congestion price tolling scenarios included in the MTA Environmental Assessment are realized.

As laid out, the plans would levy additional fees aimed at for-hire vehicles, including Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis doing business in Manhattan south of 60th Street. Organizations like mine, intimately familiar with the challenges faced by these drivers, are troubled by what could come next if policymakers and advocates don’t consider a more equitable approach.

For-hire driving in New York City has historically provided good-paying work and a path to the middle class for a vast minority immigrant worker base. Over the last decade, that work has slowly been chipped away despite the need for rides remaining high. During COVID, these drivers were called essential workers; today, their work is being threatened unfairly as an easy target to help the MTA hit their billion-dollar yearly target for Congestion Pricing.

The recently released and long-delayed “Environmental Assessment” of the proposed Central Business District Tolling Program predicts, in no uncertain terms, the extinction of thousands of driver jobs and significantly fewer earning opportunities for the for-hire industry. By extension, this will also reduce safe and reliable transportation to and from the outer boroughs serving communities of color while, mind you, not changing the cost of rides in the wealthiest part of the city within the Congestion Zone.

The potential fees of these congestion pricing tolling scenarios would be on top of an already existing $2.75-per-trip congestion surcharge added in 2019 to all rideshare trips south of 96th Street in Manhattan. According to the Taxi and Limousine Commission, those fees have generated more than $1 billion in three years. Organizations like the Haitian American Caucus understood these fees as the first step to a fair congestion pricing plan that would encourage travelers to consider shared rides over single occupancy trips, and equalize mobility across streets in Manhattan.

The further strangling of this industry is cruel to the families that depend on it for income and flexible work. It is also shortsighted to add costs for the tens of thousands of New York City residents and rideshare passengers who do not own vehicles but live in an underserved public transit area or need to travel by car from time to time. 
It’s also worth remembering that in 2018, the city stopped offering new rideshare licenses. As a result, the number of FHVs making trips fell by nearly 50 percent in the last few years, from 120,000 in 2019 to 70,000 in April 2022. The city is already artificially constraining demand and increasing costs as a result.
Currently, personal vehicles—unquestionably the largest group of vehicles on the road and using parking spots—and utility and delivery vehicles like Amazon, UPS, and FedEx are not facing the financial burdens of an additional congestion fee while given unfettered access to Manhattan streets. That is what this current tolling plan should address.
As the Traffic Mobility Review Board gets to work in recommending a final toll plan, I urge all members to carefully consider what is fair so that all parties involved on Manhattan streets work together to reduce the traffic volume in the Midtown Central Business District. For-hire vehicles are a crucial part of the transit ecosystem. New York City would not be what it is without for-hire drivers playing a significant role.
We need to protect jobs and not gamble with the livelihood of others. The Haitian American Caucus will continue to support the for-hire industry and ensure that the drivers who want to keep driving can. 
Samuel M. Pierre, MPA, is the executive director for the Haitian American Caucus-US, Inc, a global community development nonprofit whose mission is to provide Haitian communities worldwide with access to information and resources that will foster self-development and success.
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City Limits uses investigative journalism through the prism of New York City to identify urban problems, examine their causes, explore solutions, and equip communities to take action.
Founded in 1976 in the midst of New York’s fiscal crisis, City Limits exists to inform democracy and equip citizens to create a more just city. The organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit funded by foundation support, ad sponsorship and donations from readers.
© Copyright 2022, City Limits
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