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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Warmer-than-forecast climate for NYC's green taxis

A green New York City taxi travels in

A green New York City taxi travels in lower Manhattan on June 10, 2014. Credit: Theodore Parisienne

The absence of change during a new City Hall administration can seem more striking than change itself.

Before his election, Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to send "back to the drawing board" the outer-borough taxi plan put in place by the Bloomberg administration. As a candidate, de Blasio received hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of campaign contributions from the yellow-cab industry. He supported its unsuccessful lawsuit to void legislation introducing the new green-colored taxis -- which are authorized to make street pickups outside prime areas of Manhattan still reserved for the yellow cabs.

But here was Meera Joshi, de Blasio's taxi commission chair, being asked Monday how the green-cab program might be different if Bloomberg was still mayor.

"I'm not sure, from my vantage point, that there's any real discernible difference," she said. "It's an operational question now. And our job is to make sure [the program] is as efficient and fair as possible. It would be the same job under any mayor."

Those are striking statements, given the Democratic mayor's position as late as seven months ago. Joshi, appointed in March, was counsel in the Taxi and Limousine Commission under its previous chairman, David Yassky. De Blasio, you may recall, said during the campaign he would fire Yassky.

But then as now, the green cabs are run under what the city calls its Street Hail Livery Program. "Today SHLs are completing over 43,000 trips per day," Joshi told a City Council committee Monday, "and are providing much needed hail service in the boroughs."

"We believe the SHL program has gone far in filling a transportation gap in areas underserved by mass transit with safe and legal service," she said.

De Blasio has forgone what may have been a huge political blunder -- trying to scrap an evidently popular service and thus triggering instant suspicion of a sellout to contributors.

But one administration official argued that "it was always the process" under Bloomberg -- not the result -- that really concerned de Blasio because it didn't include input from all the stakeholders. And a yellow-cab industry representative who attended the hearing told Newsday: "De Blasio never said he was going to walk back the program. He said he was going to address concerns."

"There was a lack of rules as to how folks would operate. Now he's putting some meat on the bones," the taxi lobbyist added.

Key details are still to be developed on how quickly green-cab permits would proliferate and how access for the disabled will be assured. Representatives of the Committee for Taxi Safety, a group of yellow cab leasing agents and drivers, warned at the council hearing of a competitive disadvantage to them if not enough green cabs were required to be handicapped-accessible like their own.

There are enforcement questions, too.

Committee chairman Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) quizzed Joshi about the prospect of illegal permit sales. Council member Margaret Chin (D-Manhattan) said she has seen green cabs and black livery cars illegally pick up tourists south of East 96th Street.

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