Council Vote Averts Cabbie Strike
Officials End Plan to Sell 50 More Taxi Medallions in City
The municipal council today scrapped a two-year-old plan to sell 50 more taxi medallions after the move prompted a lawsuit by a city cabdrivers association.
The cabbies had also been planning a strike this week but decided to wait until the outcome of today’s vote, several drivers said today.
A few dozen cabbies crammed into the council’s conference room for the vote today on the measure, which reverses an ordinance change that would have brought the number of available Newark taxi licenses to 650 from 600, the available number for the last several decades.
Cabbies had complained that even at 600, there has not been enough business to go around since the nationwide economic downturn began almost four years ago.
Cab drivers sometimes wait “five hours” for just one fare, said Abbas Abbas, president of the Newark Cab Association, which has 400 members. Sometimes, he said, drivers work an entire day and make no money, he added.
“I would like to thank the council for making the right decision,” Abbas Abbas said.
In 2010, the council first passed the measure, sponsored by West Ward Councilman Ron Rice, increasing the number of medallions, which was intended to raise up to $16.5 million at a time when the city faced massive budget shortfalls, according to a published report.
Rice, who said the measure was intended to be temporary, said the council had no choice but to seek new sources of revenue, although he acknowledged it would have been difficult for drivers.
“Everyone has to share the pain,” Rice said of his original ordinance.
Drivers, as well as the owners of licenses, said they were happy with the council’s decision but cited other problems too. At Newark Liberty International Airport, illegal “gypsy” cabs often make their way into the lines at cab stands. Drivers of illegal cabs also sometimes park in airport lots and enter terminals seeking business, said Fayez Khellah, who has owned a Newark license for a quarter-century.
Khellah said he would like permission to have a monitor from the cab association patrolling terminals to ensure only medallion cabs are allowed to pick up fares.
“Some of these [illegal] drivers have no driver’s license. Sometimes they’ll rob you,” Khellah said.
Drivers also complained that when they do spot a gypsy cab snaking its way into a cab stand line and call Port Authority police to complain, authorities “don’t show up,” said driver Thomas William. Even when they do, Port Authority police will cite the complaining driver, instead of pursuing the illegal cab operator, William added.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Abbas Abbas mentioned other concerns as well. Along with licensed cabs, a number of limousine companies also operate in Newark, and can often be seen picking up fares on the east side of Penn Station. Abbas Abbas said limo services are supposed to be barred from picking up street passengers.
Council members, however, said medallion drivers themselves are sometimes guilty of abuses. East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador and Councilman-at-Large Carlos Gonzalez both said there have been instances when cabbies have refused to take them to their Newark homes because the drivers would rather take customers headed out of town. Those fares are generally much larger than what a driver could earn taking a customer somewhere within the city.
Recalling a time when a cabbie refused to take him home from the airport, Amador said the cabbie only relented after Amador identified himself as a city official.
“I don’t want to go through that experience again,” Amador told Abbas Abbas.