DOWNTOWN — Yellow cab drivers pushing to boost taxi rates packed a Taxi and Limousine Commission hearing on Thursday, arguing that the increase is crucial to cover soaring gas prices.
City hacks and fleet owners have proposed a rate hike of between 15 and 20 percent — a move Mayor Michael Bloomberg and TLC Commissioner David Yassky have also said they support.
It's been six years since the city authorized a taxi rate increase. During that time, fuel prices have jumped and other costs have climbed, including the amount drivers pay to lease medallions and cars from owners, drivers said.
All of this has resulted in a 25 percent cut in driver income, according to Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
"Twenty five percent loss of income for a working person is a serious, serious obstacle to your quality of life," Desai said during the hearing at the TLC's Beaver Street headquarters. "It has meant people that have had to move, people who have come into our office with eviction notices."
Fleet owners are also pushing to lift the maximum cap drivers can be charged to lease cars. Owners claim the increase is justified because of the rising cost of liability and workers' compensation insurance and the price of buying new vehicles.
"Those are real numbers," said Peter Mazer, a lawyer for the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, an association of yellow cab medallion fleets.
A final TLC vote on the fare increase could come as early as July. Yassky continued to say he believes the rate increase is justified, but he sounded far less certain about approving the owners' request to lift the lease cap.
"Gas prices are way up — drivers have been hit hard by that. You need a fare increase to compensate," Yassky said during a break in the hearing. "If the fleet owners are saying the lease cap should be increased, I think they have to explain how is it medallion prices have doubled and yet it still fair to ask the passengers to pay still more to fleets that obviously are profitable?"
Yellow cab rates — approximately $2.50 upon entry and 40 cents for each additional one-fifth mile or one minute in slow traffic — have not been increased since 2006.
In 2004, the overall ride cost also increased 26 percent.
"We need a fare increase. There are so many overcharges," said Javaid Tarik, 56, who has been driving cabs for 16 years. "This is the taxi mafia — owners and garages."