BROOKLYN BOROUGH HALL — The Taxi and Limousine Commission voted Thursday to legalize livery cab street hails in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, despite fierce objection from yellow cab drivers.
Under the new rules, which TLC Commissioner David Yassky hailed as "historic," a new class of up to 18,000 licensed liveries will be permitted to pick up street hails in the outer boroughs and in northern Manhattan, above East 96th Street on the East Side and West 110th Street on the west.
The new livery licenses will hit the market at $1,500 each, and the cars, which will be outfitted with roof lights and credit-card machines and charge standard, by-the-mile fares, are expected to hit the streets by summertime.
"I think this will be, for the Bloomberg administration, one of its major legacies that we've expanded the city's terrific taxi service to all five boroughs," said Yassky after the 8-2 vote.
"Once this rule goes into effect, people in Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island, northern Manhattan will be able to have the first-rate service that's now available only in Midtown."
But yellow taxi medallion owners are furious about the change, which they warned will cut into profits and severely reduce the value of medallions, which many spent lives saving to buy and have used to leverage everything from mortgages to kids' college tuition.
Medallions now sell for upwards of $1 million each, and as part of the state-approved deal, 2,000 more are set to hit the market soon.
Some estimated that the medallions could lose as much as 25 percent of their value through the combined plans.
"It's going to be a jungle," warned New Jersey cabbie Anthony Focarino, 59, during the raucous hearing at Brooklyn's Borough Hall, where hundreds of yellow cab and livery drivers and operators spent nearly six hours sounding off, leading to numerous shouting matches and several individuals being escorted out by police.
"It's going to hurt us. It's going to hurt the yellow industry," agreed Erhan Tuncel, 52, a driver-owner who lives on the Upper East Side. "I feel betrayed."
Many in the yellow cab industry slammed livery drivers as "hoodlums" and "criminals" who were now being awarded after spending years breaking the rules, with barely-existent enforcement. The TLC estimates that livery cars accept, on average, 100,000 illegal street hails a day.
Others, including one group of owners who filed a lawsuit Wednesday, claim the changes violate the rights of medallion holders, who believed they were buying the exclusive right to street hails.
"You made an agreement, a promise, that we had exclusive rights!" said Sandra De Toni, speaking on behalf of her father, Gabriel, 78, who drove a yellow cab for over 20 years and now depends on the money he makes from its lease to pay expensive medical bills and other costs.
Ethan Gerber, executive director of the Greater New York Taxi Association, also argued that the agreement would leave outer borough residents with "second-class borough cars" and sub-par drivers because, unlike yellow cabs, the liveries will not have any car age or English language requirements.
"This is not a gift to the boroughs. This is an insult!" he said to loud applause
Gerber said his group is considering a lawsuit as well.
But livery drivers celebrated the new rules, which they said finally give them legitimacy after years of facing fines for servicing neighborhoods that yellow cabs abandoned decades ago.
TLC officials said that just 3 percent of current yellow cab business comes from the areas where the new liveries will be permitted to serve.
"We've been doing honest work serving the community," said John Moreira, 40, who owns LBO Brooklyn, a livery company in Bushwick, and said many in his neighborhood who rely on his service support the move.
"This gives dignity and will forever change how our industry as viewed," agreed Cira Angeles, the general secretary of Livery Base Owners Inc., whose father founded Riverside Radio Dispatch in Washington Heights decades ago.
She said the change will ultimately benefit passengers, who will not only have more service options, but will also never again have to haggle for a ride.
"I think the riding public is going to benefit from a legal service that is identifiable, that is safe.... I believe this is historic," she said.