Hundreds of taxi drivers in bright yellow T-shirts demonstrated at City Hall on Monday against a proposal that would allow livery cabs to make street pickups in the outer boroughs and Upper Manhattan.
"Hail no, this plan must go!" they chanted as passing cabs honked in support.
The bill in Albany could come up for a vote as early as Tuesday and has the backing of Mayor Bloomberg and other city lawmakers. They say residents outside of central Manhattan should be able to hail cabs easily. Right now, it's illegal for livery cabs to accept passengers hailing them from the street, but many drivers do so anyway.
"We are a city of five boroughs, and it's long past time that we have equitable taxi service in all five boroughs," Taxi & Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said in a statement.
But yellow-taxi drivers and owners say they saved for years to buy expensive medallions that gave them exclusive rights to do street pickups. The medallions can go for as much as $800,000. Drivers say their value will plummet if they face new competition from livery cabs.
"I'm here to protect my job," said taxi driver Robert Carniol, 50, of the Bronx.
The city has more than 13,000 yellow taxis. According to GPS data collected by the taxi commission, 97 percent of their pickups are in central Manhattan and at the city's two airports. But 80 percent of the city's population lives outside Manhattan.
The bill would allow the commission to issue 30,000 street hail permits for use in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and northern Manhattan. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who supports the bill, said the city has 38,000 livery cab drivers.
The permits would cost $1,500 each and be valid for three years.
Rodriguez said the licenses don't pose a threat to the yellow-cab industry because they would operate in areas where yellow cabs generally don't travel. The council's Black, Latino and Asian Caucus passed a resolution Monday morning supporting the bill.
The legislation would also allow the taxi commission to sell 1,500 new yellow-cab medallions, a third of which would go to vehicles that are accessible to people with disabilities. And it would create a task force to look for ways to improve taxi service in the city.
Yellow-taxi drivers said the high number of cheap new licenses would flood the market and could put them out of business. At City Hall, they vowed to fight the bill in court if it passes.
"The city wants to add 30,000 livery cabs in the outer boroughs," Carniol said. "What do you think that will do to 13,000 yellow cabs?"
Richard Kay runs a credit union that lends to yellow-taxi drivers. The going rate for a medallion is $650,000, which, for many owners, is like buying a house, he said. Drivers borrow extensively to purchase them and often refinance for major investments like college tuition or a business expansion.
"The medallion has been the way to the American dream for many thousands of immigrants," he said.
Fernando Mateo of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers said drivers could end up owing more than the medallion is worth if the value falls. Passengers who call ahead could also face longer waits if drivers are busy doing street pickups, he said
Councilman Lew Fidler stood with opponents of the bill outside City Hall. He said it would hurt yellow-cab drivers and increase the often-chaotic traffic in his southern Brooklyn district.
Another group, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, initially opposed the bill but announced its support after Monday's rally.
Bhairavi Desai, the group's executive director, said the city agreed to several demands from drivers during last-minute negotiations. They included lowering fees on credit and debit transactions and increased enforcement of rules barring livery cabs in most of Manhattan.