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City Study Thwarts Pols' Accusation That Uber Causes Traffic Congestion

By Jeff Mays | January 15, 2016 6:37pm
 A $2 million taxpayer-funded study found that e-hail services such as Uber and Lyft do not contribute to traffic congestion.
A $2 million taxpayer-funded study found that e-hail services such as Uber and Lyft do not contribute to traffic congestion.
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MIDTOWN — A $2 million taxpayer-funded study found that e-hail services such as Uber and Lyft do not contribute to traffic congestion.

The study was ordered as a compromise with Uber after Mayor Bill de Blasio set aside his support for a City Council plan to cap the growth of for-hire vehicles at 1 percent.

Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Comptroller Scott Stringer called the cap unnecessary. Uber went on the attack, accusing the mayor of placating his donors in the yellow taxi industry and unleashing a damaging media barrage before they agreed to share data with the city so the study could be completed.

The study does not recommend a cap on the growth of e-hail vehicles and found that e-hail car services contribute to overall congestion, but are not the cause of the recent spike in traffic in Manhattan's central business district.

"Increases in e-dispatch trips are largely substituting for yellow taxi trips in the central business district," the report said. "Additionally, there is no clear evidence to suggest decisive capacity effects driven specifically by e-dispatch pick-up, drop-off and parking behavior."

The report did find that e-hail car services could contribute to the growth of congestion in the future but tagged freight delivery, population growth and construction for being the main cause of slower vehicle speeds on city streets.

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, called the study "impossible to believe."

Uber has 26,000 vehicles, 6,000 of which are on the street at any given time. The company says 25,000 people take their first ride with Uber each week.

"Imagine if 26,000 yellow cabs were unleashed onto the city's streets overnight. Would nobody think those cars would have no impact?" Desai asked. "I would have liked to have seen a real study. Maybe the $2 million could have been better spent on helping drivers recover lost income from congestion."

Peter Kadushin, a spokesman for de Blasio, said the administration looks forward to working with the City Council and "industry partners to create comprehensive proposals to address accessibility, consumer and employee safety, mobility and securing support for our public transit system.”

The language was much tamer than what de Blasio used in the heat of the fight with Uber.

"Let’s be clear — Uber is a multi-billion dollar corporation, and they’re acting like one," de Blasio said in July when he asserted that a 1 percent cap in growth would not hurt the company. "They’re looking out for their corporate bottom line. They’re putting their profits over all other considerations."

The City Council also unveiled a package of legislation Friday to address for-hire vehicles that would create a universal license for yellow cab or for-hire vehicles, eliminate an English language test for drivers and streamline the Taxi and Limousine Commission's application process.

The proposed legislation would also increase penalties for illegal street hails, eliminate off-street parking requirements for livery cabs and allow e-hailing apps to be used by any licensed taxi base.

Josh Mohrer, general manager for Uber NY, said he was "supportive of several of the proposals" introduced by the Council and the study.

David Mack, director of public affairs for Lyft, said the city had taken a "thoughtful approach to making the regulatory process work better for riders and drivers alike."

The study also found that use of e-hailed vehicles will create a shortfall in public transportation fares as passengers use the service more.

The study suggested that e-hail vehicles pay the same 50-cent surcharge that yellow taxis charge to support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

E-hailed vehicles should also have more transparent pricing and should also be required to disclose more of their data to the city, the study said, and they should also conform to city requirements that a percentage of their vehicles be handicapped accessible.

James Weisman, president of the United Spinal Association, which has sued the city over transportation accessibility requirements, said the study did not go far enough to address the issue.

"The devil is in the details and there aren’t any in what was released today," Weisman said.