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Disrupted drivers

A controversial new law in New York caps the number of Uber drivers

Disrupted drivers

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signs a bill regulating the ride-hailing industry in New York. (Albin Lohr-Jones/Sipa via AP)

A New York moment: 

The other night I had a late dinner with friends, and the subway was down due to construction (as it often is these days), so I took a Lyft ride back to my apartment. As I talked with the driver, a father and husband whose family lives in a one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey, he urged me to be in touch with the New York City Council to oppose proposed regulations on Lyft. 

The proposal, which Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law on Tuesday, has generated controversy in New York. It temporarily caps the number of drivers for ride-sharing apps, in an effort to pause mushrooming traffic in the city and to help the struggling taxi industry. Six taxi drivers in recent months have committed suicide.

De Blasio, who regularly targets companies he doesn’t like, has said that he was fighting “a huge multinational corporation” that had “cynically … flooded the market,” noting that 40 percent of Uber vehicles have no riders. Uber argues the flooding has served underserved low-income neighborhoods.

The driver cap affects all ride-hailing companies, including big corporate Uber and little guys like Juno and Via. Both Uber and Lyft supported instead congestion pricing as a solution, where extra fees for driving in certain areas during certain hours would go to a public transit fund. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has supported that idea in the past, but de Blasio opposes it. 

As the council was considering the legislation, some in my church circles discussed avoiding ride-sharing as a way to love your lower-income neighbor, arguing that taking a car diverts money away from public transit, the lifeblood of New York. But self-interested politicians in New York are chiefly responsible for diverting billions of dollars in transit funds away from transit, according to a remarkable investigative project by The New York Times last year.

New York is the first U.S. city to establish such a driver cap. As other city governments try to adapt to the arrival of disruptive companies like Lyft and Airbnb, these hairy discussions are likely to spread.

Worth your time:   

Meet the gardener who resurrected Claude Monet’s gardens, which fell into disrepair after World War II. 

This week I learned: 

Rikers Island, the infamous New York City jail with a history of violence, is moving minors into a separate facility in the Bronx. The “youth facility” isn’t supposed to feel like a jail, but Rikers corrections officers (against those officers’ wishes) will be staffing the facility. 

A court case you might not know about: 

A fascinating First Amendment case is unfolding in New York between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the state government, which has fined and ousted an NRA-sponsored liability insurance program. The NRA, in suing New York, argued the blacklisting of the insurance was “politically motivated.” If you want to dig deeper into this, a legal reporter covering the case had a good discussion about it with WNYC.

Culture I am consuming: 

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones. In reporting on the opioid crisis over the last couple of years, I have heard great things about this book from person after person. The praise is deserved. I’m only halfway through it, but it’s already a masterpiece of reporting and storytelling. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org