That's the question the City Council's Transportation Committee debated yesterday, at a hearing on legislation that would put a temporary cap on the issuance of all for-hire vehicle (FHV) licenses.

The bill's sponsor, Brooklyn Councilmember Stephen Levin, says the proposed 14-month cap—which would limit FHV base growth from 1-15% depending on the number of cars in each fleet—is necessary in order to conduct a study on the FHV industry's impact on city traffic and the environment. "I believe very strongly at the outset that the measures that are proposed here are absolutely warranted, necessary, and appropriate," he said.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is hoping to quantify the impact of a recent spike in black cars—since 2011, the number of licensed FHVs in the city has jumped 66% from 25,000 to 63,000—specifically in the already-congested Manhattan Central Business District below 60th Street where, according to DOT data, 72% of FHV pickups take place.

While the study can proceed without the cap, TLC commissioner Meera Joshi argued that the "unbridled" growth will make it difficult to accurately assess current traffic and pollution conditions.

Testifying before the committee, DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that the influx of FHVs over the past two years has led to increased congestion, slowing down bus times by 5% during rush hour in busy lower Manhattan. Nilda Meesa of the Mayor's Office of Sustainability added that 17% of particle emissions come from on-road vehicles, and that congestion and traffic only exacerbate this.

"At some point," Joshi said, "I strongly believe that the city needs to step in to insure there is a balance between those of us who choose instant gratification and convenience of travel with private vehicles, and the much larger group who cannot afford private car services."

Uber countered that it has only 18,000 associated FHVs in NYC, compared to the city's 13,587 licensed yellow cabs and 8,043 green cabs.

Uber's NYC GM Josh Moher was quick to point out that this 18,000 represent only 1% of the total number of vehicles that pass over city bridges into Manhattan every day. But Trottenberg retorted that many cars in New York City sit idle throughout the day, and do not contribute to congestion and pollution to the same extent. According to the TLC, yellow cabs run over 407,000 trips a day, and green cabs run about 88,000, plus dispatches (which the TLC doesn’t track). Uber estimates about 120,000 rides per day.

While Uber testified that its increasing popularity is making it less necessary for New Yorkers to drive their own cars, the company did not provide statistics to back this up. UberPOOL will, according to Uber, eventually take 1 million cars off of the road in NYC, but Moher told reporters that it's still too early to quantify its impact.


Despite Uber's projections that "hundreds" of their drivers and fans would gather on the steps of City Hall during yesterday's hearing (they went so far as to advertise free Uber rides), this reporter counted only several dozen, many of whom were the company's full-time employees.

Decked out in Uber t-shirts and hats, the sharing-economy supporters gathered around Mohrer, who pointed out that 25,000 New Yorkers join the platform each week. "To keep up with that demand, we have to add hundreds of drivers to the platform every week," Mohrer said.

"We project that over 10,000 such drivers will join the platform in the next year," he added, insinuating that the vast majority of these jobs would be "lost" under the new legislation, which would only allow 200 new Uber vehicles between now and August of 2016.

At the hearing, Brooklyn Councilmember David Greenfield asked Joshi to address the question. Would there really be 10,000 fewer jobs? "How do you respond to that?" he askes. "Is that true?"

"'Jobs' is a funny term," Joshi replied. "Jobs I associate with healthcare, vacation time, and pensions. These are streams of income, but they are not jobs." She added that the cap would not apply to potential FHV drivers, but their vehicles, meaning that drivers would be able to work for other platforms.

The TLC and DOT also argue that fewer Ubers on the road might lead to less competition for business and, subsequently, fewer illegal hails.

However, Moher countered that because demand for Uber is growing so steadily, this is a moot point.

"So what is this really about? That's an easy one. It's about stifling competition with the taxi industry," he said.

As for the likelihood of a permanent cap on the number of FHVs in New York City, the TLC and DOT demurred. "The study will try to determine what policies need to be in place," Trottenberg said.