Owners of New York City's signature yellow cabs sued Wednesday over plans to let livery cars pick up passengers on the street outside the heart of Manhattan, turning to a court on the eve of an expected vote to put the proposal in action.
The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade's president called the plan "unconstitutional, irresponsible and unconscionable" as the organization filed suit in a Manhattan court.
The city Taxi and Limousine Commission was expected to vote Thursday on enacting the change, which the state Legislature authorized in February. City lawyers said the suit wouldn't stop the commission's vote.
Advocates, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, say the change would make travel safer, easier and cheaper for millions of people in areas where yellow cabs aren't prevalent, and would generate $1 billion in revenue for the city.
The taxi group says the plan is unfair to yellow cab owners who paid hefty fees for what has been an exclusive citywide right.
"We are bringing this suit on behalf of all the individuals, all the small businesses, all the men and women who are overwhelmed with anxiety, grief and worry over their future as a result of this devastating law, which will completely undermine their livelihood and lifetime investment," Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade President Ron Sherman said in a statement. The group represents owners of about 4,000 yellow cabs, leased to more than 16,000 drivers.
Now, only yellow cabs can collect people on curbs, known in taxi lingo as "street hails." Livery cars are supposed to be dispatched to people who have contacted car services, though yellow cab drivers have long complained that livery cars sometimes collect passengers from curbs, too.
The proposal would let 18,000 livery drivers buy permits to pick up street hails above 96th Street in Manhattan and throughout the four other boroughs, except for Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The livery cab street hail permits would initially be sold by the city for $1,500; taxi medallions have gone for as much as $1 million on the open market.
The plan also authorizes the city to sell 2,000 new yellow-cab medallions, all of which will be restricted to vehicles that are wheelchair-accessible.
"A great deal of careful thought and consideration went into the adoption of this important new transportation initiative," city Law Department attorney Ave Maria Brennan said in a statement. "We are confident that it complies with all legal requirements — and that this challenge will be rejected by the courts."
The city has about 13,000 yellow cabs.