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Uber protests NYC plans to curtail expansion

Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber New York,

Josh Mohrer, general manager of Uber New York, speaks to the media, while a group of Uber supporters rally outside City Hall in Manhattan, on June 30, 2015. Credit: Anthony Lanzilote

Uber officials faced off with City Hall Tuesday over a City Council proposal to curtail the rapid spread of app-dispatched for-hire vehicles while studying the environmental impact of the industry.

Representatives of the popular livery service said city leaders have unfairly targeted them and argued that the legislation to temporarily cap the number of Uber and similar vehicles would cost 10,000 Uber jobs.

"Does it really make sense to say that Uber drivers and riders are the only cause for the age-old problem of congestion?" Josh Mohrer, general manager of the company's New York office, asked at a rally outside City Hall with about 50 drivers, riders and supporters.

Mohrer said the city was beholden to "medallion millionaires," a swipe at the owners of city-issued licenses to operate traditional yellow taxicabs.

Inside, at a City Council hearing, Taxi & Limousine Commission chair Meera Joshi said the legislation would help balance congestion resulting from those who "choose the instant gratification" of private vehicles with the health of the many others in the city who can't afford to hire cars.

She said the legislation seeks to limit vehicles, not drivers. Joshi encouraged existing Uber drivers to lease out their cars and trucks to other drivers.

The legislation would restrict companies based on the number of vehicles a dispatching base has in its fleet while an environmental review lasting about one year is conducted. A moratorium may be proposed after the study.

The measures have the support of Mayor Bill de Blasio, his spokesman Wiley Norvell said.

Uber said it has 26,000 vehicles in New York, including thousands of cars used only part-time for livery work. The city said there are currently 63,000 for-hire vehicles on the streets, including outer-borough-based green taxicabs.

If signed into law, the bills would cap Uber's growth to only 200 additional vehicles in the next 14 months, Mohrer said.

City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), chair of the transportation committee, said 23,000 for-hire vehicles have been added to city streets since 2010, with the number of "black cars" nearly tripling to 28,000.

Joshi said the city has concerns over reports that some for-hire vehicle drivers were "cannibalizing" the business of others seeking to make a living on app-based livery and that for-hire vehicles are not required to be accessible to handicapped riders.

The hearing turned testy at points.

Rodriguez asked Uber New York's director of public policy, Michael Allegretti, to respect the question-and-answer process and not speak out of turn.

When Rodriguez told Allegretti that the council had enough votes to pass the bills, the Uber representative asked rhetorically why the council was even holding a hearing.

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