Long Island taxi regulators are predicting more Uber and Lyft drivers in Nassau and Suffolk counties now that New York City has temporarily capped its number of ride-hail licenses.
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation Tuesday that puts a 12-month moratorium on the number of ride-hail licenses so the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission can study the impact of the services on traffic congestion and the traditional cab industry.
Both Nassau and Suffolk officials said it stands to reason that the city crackdown, which is the first in the nation for a major municipality, could bring more app-hailing drivers to the Island. Neither Nassau nor Suffolk could give an estimate of its current total of ride-hail drivers because the state exempts them from registering with the counties.
“If you can’t drive in New York City, and you can drive in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, without regulation, I would think that other drivers would seek to come out here to make the money they can’t make in the city,” said James Andrews, who heads Suffolk's Taxi & Limousine Commission as the county's director of consumer affairs.
Andrews predicted that the increase in the number of drivers could be especially larger during the summer.
App-hailing drivers registered in the city can't pick up passengers on the Island unless they are going into the city. But, Nassau's taxi and limousine chief said, drivers can move their operations if they don't have taxi license plates.
"They can easily take their straight-plate vehicles to neighboring jurisdictions and operate legally under state law,” said Gregory A. May, also Nassau’s commissioner of consumer affairs.
Regardless of whether there is an uptick in drivers, the counties can't regulate the number because of a state law enacted last summer that allows only the city to regulate ride-hailing app services.
Roshon Martin of Jamaica, Queens, is an Uber driver who is already operating on Long Island for the reason that May cited: He's dealing with much less bureaucratic red tape. Unlike if he drove in the city, Martin doesn't have to have a hack license or re-register his car with special license plates.
“I don't have to deal with that headache at all,” said Martin, 48, a retired Postal Service employee who also works at a Rockville Centre seafood restaurant.
Under the moratorium, the number of ride-hail licenses in the city is expected to shrink since at least a fourth of them leave every year anyway, Lyft has said. Drivers for the four largest ride-hail companies — Uber, Lyft, Juno and Via — total 80,000, according to a study that the city released in July.
Uber, which is the most popular ride-hail app in the United States, sees fewer of its cars on city streets but doesn't expect the drop to translate to an increase on the Island, said Josh Gold, a company spokesman.
Lyft, too, is bracing for fewer app-hail rides in the city but predicts an uptick on Long Island because of demand — not the cap.
Ultimately, demand will determine how many ride-hail drivers are on the Island, said Sarah M. Kaufman, assistant director at New York University's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management.
“Of course, the supply can only meet the demand, and if there isn’t such a demand in Long Island for Uber, then there won’t be such a need for drivers,” she said.
The Long Island Limousine Association and the Nassau Suffolk County Taxi Owners Association couldn't be reached for comment.
Besides limiting the growth of licenses, the new city legislation calls for a minimum pay for drivers.
Currently, driving in the city pays better, per mile, even for drivers who live on the Island, said Inder Parmar, 55, who lives in New Hyde Park, but drives in the city.
A high-end Uber ride in the city pays the driver $2.52 a mile; the same ride on the Island pays $1.08 a mile. The Uber SUV service pays $2.90 in the city and $1.18 on the Island, he said.
“I live on Long Island, but I don’t work in Long Island because the price is so low,” Parmar said.
Many app-hailing drivers are pushing for the city to extend another rule, which is known in the industry as "deadhead" pay. The compensation is for return trips — from the Island and beyond — that can sometimes take hours.
An Uber driver, for instance, accepts a fare without knowing the destination but gets an alert only if the ride will take 45 minutes or longer, said Gold, the company spokesman.
“Drivers go out, take passengers from New York City to the Hamptons, Long Island, anywhere, they come back empty," said Sohail Rana, 50, of Franklin Square, who drives for Uber and Lyft. "If you go to the Hamptons, it’s like three hours coming back.”
Rules of the road
- A 2017 law signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pre-empted local regulation of app-hailing services like Uber and Lyft except in New York City. A driver operating outside of the five boroughs is only required to register with one of the services.
- A vehicle licensed to operate for an app-hailing service can't operate outside the city except when dropping off a passenger.
- The legislation de Blasio signed Tuesday places a 12-month moratorium during a congestion study; sets minimum pay for drivers (expected to be about $17 an hour); encourages more handicapped-accessible vehicles, and imposes other regulations on the app-hail industry for the first time.