By Jill Colvin
CITY HALL — Those who rely on livery cabs were left stranded Monday morning, as hundreds of drivers hung up their keys and descended on City Hall to protest the latest iteration of the city's "Five Borough Taxi Plan."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proposed introducing a new fleet of approximately 6,000 livery cabs that would be allowed to pick up fares only in the outer boroughs, plus adding 1,500 more regular new taxi medallions to bring in cash.
"They want to take all of the livery cabs out of Manhattan and sell us medallions we can’t afford," complained Francisco Luna, 51, a driver at Premium Radio Dispatch car service in Harlem, which closed its doors from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., along with bases across the city, in protest of the plan.
While it's unclear how much medallions for the new cabs would cost, yellow cab medallions currently sell for an eye-popping $600,000 — a price drivers say they could never afford.
But as protesters chanted and waved colorful signs defending their jobs and slamming the mayor, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who had been asked by the administration to broker a deal between the warring sides, released a new plan that would create a new class of outer-borough medallion, independent of the plan to license more yellow cabs.
The new outer-borough cabs, which would be equipped with meters, lights and GPS systems, would be allowed to pick up street hails outside of Manhattan and the airports, but would not be allowed to provide dispatch services.
While Diaz said it would be up to lawmakers to decide how many new medallions to issue and how much they should cost, he said they would have to cost "far less" than yellow medallion so they "remain affordable to all livery cab drivers or base owners."
Asked about what would happen to passengers in Harlem, Inwood and Washington Heights, where yellow cabs are rare, Diaz said it will be up to state lawmakers and city council members to finesse the rules.
"I believe that there is room for that to happen," he said. "Ultimately the legislatures can decide how to define Manhattan," he said.
Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said that, while he had not yet reviewed Diaz's plan in detail, none of his proposals appeared counter to the city's objective.
"Our paramount goal is to establish a legal, first-rate taxi service outside Manhattan," he said, adding that elected officials who represent Upper Manhattan should have "real input" into how the plan would operate there.
But not everyone was ready to get on board.
Cira Angeles, a spokeswoman for Livery Base Owners, Inc., commended Diaz on his involvement, but said that prohibiting livery drivers from accepting both radio calls and street hails "ignores the reality of a system that has served the community well."
"We cannot support his plan in its current form," she said.
Livery cab drivers from Upper Manhattan also said a plan that leaves the them out is unacceptable as well.
"Washington Heights and Harlem rely on livery drivers. You’ll never see a yellow cab accepting hails up there," said Hamilton DeLossantos, 30, a livery cab driver for the past nine years.
Faustino Cuevas, 36, who lives in Washington Heights and has been driving in the neighborhood for the past 10 years, agreed.
"The community of Washington Heights needs our services," he said.
City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who has been rallying against the mayor’s plan, said Monday that he would support a new class of medallions that cost between $1,000 and $20,000 a pop.
But asked if they could afford even a several-thousand dollar license, both DeLossantos and Curvas balked.
"That’s crazy. It’s ridiculous. No way," said DeLossantos, who said he already struggles to support his daughters on $8,000 or $9,000 a year.
But Angel Pimenteo, 42, who runs Premium Radio Dispatch, said he would be willing to consider paying up to $25,000 for medallions if it would mean the end of a ticketing blitz that has set him back thousands of dollars in the past month alone.
"It’s a poor community. We can’t pay," said Pimenteo, whose company has served the community for more than 40 years.
And for those used to relying on services like his, the shut-down was a shock.
"They’re sending a message loud and clear," Rodriguez said.