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Judge Temporarily Blocks $2.50 Taxi Surcharge Scheduled For January 1st

Dashed Arrow via flickr user Gary Burke

A New York judge has temporarily blocked a state congestion pricing surcharge that would have added a $2.50 fee to yellow cabs and some for-hire vehicles in order to help fund the subways.

The fee was slated to begin on New Year's Day, and would've targeted trips that touch a designated "congestion zone" below 96th Street in Manhattan. On Thursday night, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Martin Shulman issued a temporary injunction so the court could review a last-minute lawsuit filed by cab drivers opposed to the fee. A hearing is scheduled for January 3rd.

The fee was approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the legislature in March, after the broader push for congestion pricing failed once again. From the start, critics of the legislation have argued that the piecemeal approach would unfairly target already-struggling taxi drivers, while letting private motorists off the hook for their role in clogging the streets. "We are pleased Albany's sham of a congestion tax is now temporarily suspended," said Independent Drivers Guild spokesperson Moira Mintz in a statement.

According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, cab drivers could lose up to $15,000 a year in income under the legislation. In frequent rallies in Albany and outside City Hall, they've dubbed the fee a "suicide surcharge," in reference to the string of financially devastated drivers who've taken their own lives over the last year. Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Meera Josi, who is named in the lawsuit, admitted last month that the fee was "potentially devastating" for yellow cab drivers, whose fares already include a $2.50 pick-up fee and 80-cent accessibility and mass transit charge.

The fee was expected to bring in about $400 million a year for the MTA, at least some of which had been earmarked for the Subway Action Plan. In a statement to Gothamist, Patrick Muncie, a spokesperson for Cuomo, said: “The state plans to vigorously defend the law, which was approved by the legislature and will generate hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the subway and help ensure New Yorkers have a safe, reliable transportation system."

This week, the governor vowed to implement a comprehensive congestion pricing proposal during his first 100 days in office. Driver advocates, including the NYTWA, have said that yellow cabs should be exempted from any congestion pricing plan, because it would "make survival—let alone a raise—impossible for drivers."

Uber, meanwhile, has supported the fee, spending around $100,000 on lobbying efforts, according to the NYTWA. As written, the legislation would charge only a 75 cent fee when a group ride is requested through one of the app-based services, even if the trip isn't matched with a second passenger. A spokesperson for Uber declined to comment on the ruling.

The lawsuit names the state, the city and the Taxi and Limousine Commission as defendants. Many of the plaintiffs are family members and close friends of drivers who've committed suicide, including the brother of Kenny Chow, who took his own life in May after racking up $700,000 in debt on his medallion. A total of eight for-hire drivers have committed suicide in the last 13 months.

"We know the fight is long from over, but we feel relieved and encouraged that a judge is telling the Governor to listen to our suffering," said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. "There is a real crisis here. And Governor Cuomo has the power to help drivers instead of adding an additional crushing burden on a workforce already facing financial despair."

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