New York City Bans Walking Long Distances
Pedestrians wanting to walk farther than five city blocks will have to take public transit.
Visitors wishing to tour the Big Apple will have to take a cab, bus, or train. That’s no longer a recommendation. That’s the law.
The New York City Council approved a ban on walking long distances within city limits. The bill passed with a 49-1 vote, with one city council member abstaining.
Under this new law, pedestrians are prohibited from walking farther than five city blocks. Those that break the law could face fines up to $25, the average fare for a single cab trip.
The law was proposed to encourage New Yorkers to utilize public transportation, be it the subway, the bus system, or one of the city’s iconic yellow taxi cabs.
Since the start of the economic recession, public transit revenues have declined as residents have opted to save money by walking, biking, or carpooling.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has backed this bill as a way to help stimulate the city’s economy by having citizens “prime the pump” of public transportation.
“We know that New Yorkers have been hurting under the recession, but by refusing to take public transit, they only ensure that transportation workers are hurt the hardest,” Blasio said. “Money saved from a cab ride is food money taken away from a taxi driver and his starving family.”
“An economy cannot recover when people are hoarding money for themselves,” he continued. “Economic recovery is only possible when money is circulating within the system. This new law will help prime the pump of our transportation system and ensure that money remains circulating within it.”
A recent poll shows that the new law is highly unfavorable with New York residents, with more than 80 percent opposing it. Most of the 20 percent who support it are transportation workers.
The bill was lobbied for by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the agency responsible for regulating the city's taxi industry. For this reason, opponents have decried the new law as political cronyism.
The city has a long history of close political connections between government officials and the transportation sector, especially the taxi industry.
For example, De Blasio received more than $350,000 from taxi interests during his mayoral campaign. Once in office, he appointed Izabella Vais, whom he had paid $50,000 for fundraising services, to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. Vais now serves as TLC's assistant commissioner for policy and intergovernmental affairs.
The political connections that the taxi industry has with the city government has made it easier to lobby for regulations allowing it to maximize profits and limit competition, all in the guise of protecting public safety.
Its lobbying efforts against ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft have kept both services at bay. Lyft was recently prevented from expanding its operations into the city by an injunction granted by the state’s Supreme Court last July. Even when Lyft was finally permitted into the city, the regulations imposed by it through the TLC had inhibited the company to the point where its services were essentially rendered useless.
TLC requires cabs operating within the city to be certified by owning or renting taxi medallions. However, the agency’s restrictive leasing policy has increased medallion prices, and in turn, decreased the city's taxi supply.
When the agency was first formed in 1937, medallions sold for as low as $10; since then, their prices have risen to almost $1 million. The past 30 years have seen a price increase of at least 1,000 percent. Because of this price increase, the number of medallions have decreased from 16,900 when the medallion system was first implemented in 1937 to 13,605 today.
This price increase has allowed existing medallion owners to benefit from above-market profits and limited competition while new cab drivers are kept out of the market and passengers are forced to pay for higher cab fares, which have increased six times over the past 30 years.
For these reasons, opponents have likened the TLC to a cartel. As Jeff Horwitz and Chris Cumming explained in Slate, "by converting a portion of cabbies’ future revenue into a freely tradable asset, New York...[has] created a powerful investor class, medallion owners and financiers, whose interests routinely compete with those of drivers and passengers."
“The NYC taxi medallion system cartel is a good example of 'government failure' and crony capitalism that harms consumers and impoverishes the citizens of New York City, while enriching a small group of wealthy, politically-connected rent-seekers," they further elaborated.
To ensure that NYC cabs are properly-certified, TLC enforcement agents have the power to stop and seize vehicles they suspect of operating as illegal cabs. This authority has led to countless drivers having their vehicles wrongfully seized as illegal cabs when they were merely driving friends or family members.
In one such instance earlier this January, a pregnant woman and her husband were forced to trek home in freezing cold weather after TLC inspectors seized their vehicle under the suspicion that her husband was operating it as an illegal cab. Their vehicle was later returned to them, with their case dropped after her husband proved he had a job elsewhere.
In another instance in June, a charity driver for Chesed, a Jewish charity which offers free rides to cancer patients, was stranded on the side of the rode with his two sick elderly passengers after his car was seized and impounded by TLC inspectors, who issued him a $2,000 citation.
Of the 7,000 claims made by the commission last year, 1,500 cases were discovered to have been “dismissed because officials weren’t following the law or ignoring explanations,” according to an investigation by DNAinfo.
Former TLC investigators have come out publicly to confess that these dubious seizures have been carried out due to quotas, which were motivated less by public safety and more by greed.
One such investigator, Alan Kaeckmeister, who has since quit his job, claimed that he was forced by superiors to seize cars even when there was little evidence that they were illegal cabs. The motivation for this was always money.
"I wanted an entry-level law enforcement position and to help people," he wrote in a 12-page statement that he submitted last year to the Department of Investigation. "However, within a few weeks of starting actually working with the TLC, I can see that the TLC doesn’t offer any real value to the public and the enforcement section of it is more or less just a corrupt money-making scam for the city."
Would NYC ever ban walking for the sake of the taxi lobby? Considering the city's past history of political cronyism between it's government and taxi industry, this idea isn't quite far-fetched.
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