Top NY court backs NYC livery street pickup rights

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Two plans to add options for New York City taxi seekers got green lights from courts Thursday. The state's highest court OK'd allowing livery cab drivers to pick up passengers who hail them on streets in much of the city, while another court said smartphone apps could be used to summon yellow cabs for now.

The orders represent victories — if provisional, in the e-hail apps case — for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said at a news conference they "will mean more and better taxi service for New Yorkers." But the measures have met opposition in the taxi industry: Livery car owners oppose the apps, while yellow-cab owners didn't want to let car services pick up street hails.

The latter case involved a 2012 state law, backed by Bloomberg, that ends yellow cabs' exclusive right to pick up street hails. The Court of Appeals, in Albany, rejected claims by yellow-cab owners and taxi lenders that the law is unconstitutional.

Bloomberg said the decision would usher in "safe, reliable taxi service," with meters and the ability to pay by credit card, for swaths of the city where yellow cabs are rarely or never seen.

Last June, a judge barred the Taxi and Limousine Commission from proceeding with plans to sell new permits for car services to pick up street hails in northern Manhattan and the city's four outer boroughs, excluding the two airports in Queens.

The plan to sell 18,000 such permits also authorized the city to sell 2,000 new permits, or medallions, to yellow cabs that can accommodate disabled passengers. The city expects to make more than $1.4 billion from the sales.

The court, ruling unanimously, concluded that the law didn't violate the city's state constitutional authority to manage its own affairs because of an exception in cases in which the state has "substantial interest."

"This is not a purely local issue. Millions of people from within and without the state visit the city annually," Judge Eugene Pigott Jr. wrote. "Efficient transportation services in the state's largest city and international center of commerce is important to the entire state. The act plainly furthers all of these significant goals."

GPS data collected by the taxi commission had showed 97 percent of medallion pickups were in central Manhattan and at the two airports. About 80 percent of the city's population lives in the other four boroughs.

According to the court, the new licensing provisions will apply to applicants from a pool of about 60,000 currently licensed livery vehicles, with 6,000 hail licenses to be issued each year over three years for $1,500 each the first year, $3,000 the second and $4,500 the third. The city expects to have the first of the green-colored "boro taxis" on the streets this summer, Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky said.

The 2,000 new yellow-cab medallions would follow 13,237 the City Council had authorized through 2008.

A medallion can cost more than $1 million on the open market, Bloomberg said. Yellow-cab drivers have said allowing livery cab street hails would devalue the medallions.

A spokeswoman for the Greater New York Taxi Association, which represents yellow-cab owners and operators, called Thursday for ensuring all vehicles meet the same standards and all drivers comply with the same rules for licensing, vehicle inspections, insurance, driver drug testing, credit card acceptance and passenger leg room.

Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court's Appellate Division, First Department, lifted a temporary ban on the e-hail service for yellow cabs. It now can resume while the overall appeal case plays out.

"In New York City in 2013, common sense and the free market say that you should be able to use your smartphone to get a cab," Bloomberg said in a statement.

A lawyer for the e-hail opponents, Randy Mastro, said they were disappointed but expected ultimately to prevail.

In December, the city approved a yearlong test. Livery cab owners and groups sued, saying it was too broad to qualify as a test program and was unfair to them because they rely on pre-arranged fares.

A judge dismissed their lawsuit in April. They appealed. An appellate judge put the temporary ban in place last month, a day after Uber Technologies launched e-hail service in New York. It's now running again, the company said.

Another taxi app company, Taxi Magic, said it planned to start service in New York in the coming weeks.

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Peltz reported from New York City.

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