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Legalizing livery cab hails will benefit Queens: Yassky

City Taxi & Limousine Commissioner David Yassky did not take a cab to the Community Board 6 meeting last week.

In fact, he would have been hard-pressed to even see one of the yellow cars in Queens March 9, when board members raised several questions about the city’s plan to legalize on-street pickups by livery cabs.

“We created this giant underground market,” Yassky said. “But we want to legitimize something that people want to take advantage of.”

It is currently illegal to hail livery cabs, but that has not stopped many Queens residents from doing it.

Yassky even saw a livery cab pull into a bus stop to pick up a passenger on the way to the meeting — a doubly illegal maneuver.

Legalizing the practice would be beneficial to both residents and drivers, he said, since many residents do it already.

But there are a few steps that must be taken first, according to Yassky.

“From the passenger’s point of view, you don’t know if [a livery cab] is a legitimate vehicle,” he said. “You don’t know if the driver has been screened or if he’s insured. And it has no meter.”

Any livery cab companies that decide to convert a portion or all of their cars to taxis would have to make some adjustments. They would need to install meters and a credit card reader, put a light on the roof and paint the cars a recognizable color, Yassky said. The transformation would cost around $1,500 per car.

The cars would not share the iconic yellow of Manhattan’s cabs, Yassky said, and they would not share their turf either.

The cars would only be allowed to pick up impromptu passengers in the outer boroughs.

Manhattan is a largely insular world for taxis. In fact, 97 percent of all taxi trips take place on the island, leaving Queens woefully underserved, Yassky said.

But the potential distinction between the yellow cabs of Manhattan and the new cabs of the outer boroughs left Chairman Joseph Hennessy wondering if any of the taxis would ever cross the East River, since Queens taxis would not be allowed to pick up fares in Manhattan and Manhattan taxis would face increased competition in the outer boroughs.

“It won’t be worth it for them,” Hennessy said.

Chris Collett, another board member, wondered what would become of the taxi stands that sit unused in the area.

One woman wanted to know if she could still call a livery cab to take her to Manhattan.

“Car service rules stay just as they are,” Yassky said. “If they don’t want to change, then no problem.”

Yassky said many of the taxi stands might prove useful, especially if the communities of CB 6 wanted to control increased traffic from taxis trolling for fares. All the taxis could line up at the stands.

But the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade wants those stands to be filled with yellow cabs instead.

“It is time to renew the call for dispatcher-staffed yellow taxi stands in the boroughs outside of Manhattan, and other creative ‘yellow’ ideas, because residents of all boroughs deserve first class yellow taxi service—not second-class livery street hails,” the board said in a statement.

The proposal has yet to make its way through the City Council.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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