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Smith optimistic over outerboro taxi plan

Despite being passed earlier this year, the bill to bring livery cabs that can pick up street hails to the outer boroughs has remained controversial. Taxi drivers picketed the proposal in the city in June. AP Photo/Richard Drew
TimesLedger Newspapers

Despite rumblings of a negotiation breakdown between Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the plan to bring livery cabs which can take street hails to the outer boroughs, State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said he was “cautiously optimistic” an agreement could be reached.

“I think they can,” Smith said. “I will encourage the Governor to [sign the bill]. And we can make amendments.”

The contentious bill would issue 30,000 permits for livery cabs to take street hails in the outer boroughs and Upper Manhattan, as well as an additional 1,500 yellow taxi medallions, some of which would be for handicapped-accessible vehicles. It was passed by both state legislative chambers in July, but has since languished on the governor’s desk.

Bloomberg has been a major backer of the bill, having promised to bring street hails to the outer boroughs in his 2010 State of the City speech. However, opinion has been split among yellow cab organizations and among Queens legislators.

Legislators TimesLedger Newspapers spoke to said Bloomberg and Cuomo failed to reach an agreement over the amount of handicapped-accessibility cabs.

“You never can tell what this governor is going to do, which is interesting,” said State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) said. “But I suspect negotiations fell apart.”

Stavisky, who voted against the plan, said that was one of her problems with the bill. She also said the legislation was vague, she feared the 30,000 permits and additional 1,500 yellow cabs would saturate the market, and did not believe the legislature should be voting on the plan.

“This bill really belongs in the City Council,” Stavisky said.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who also voted against the bill, said there could also be issues if the new cabs can pick up both street hails and pre-arranged calls. He said some cabs on a pre-arranged call may abandon the call for a hail.

“We need to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “This just doesn’t get us to where we need to be.”

Smith said he agreed the accessibility of the cabs needed to be dealt with, but said that did not need to hold up the legislation being passed. He said the cabs would be a boon to his constituents at a time when the MTA is cutting service.

“It’s transportation and it’s the ability to be fair to the public that wants access to transportation,” Smith said.

TLC Commissioner David Yassky said many unemployed are trying to break into the taxi cab driving business and the bill would benefit those drivers, the New York Post reported. Currently a record 50,000 have licenses to drive a yellow cab, the Post reported.

Smith disagreed the market would be saturated by the additional cabs. He said even in Manhattan he sometimes has to hail three or four cabs before one stops.

“I think they’re trying to be selfish,” Smith said of the drivers, “and that’s a shame.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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