By COSTA CONSTANTINIDES
Uber’s legacy here in Queens is one of congestion, pollution and poor treatment of drivers.
Uber, Lyft and other app-based rideshare services have accelerated the historic increase of for-hire vehicles (FHVs) by about 80,000 in the past five years or so, creating unprecedented traffic in our already-cramped streets.
The FHV footprint has now vastly expanded to 102,536 by the end of last year, according to the Taxi & Limousine Commission (T&LC). Because there are many more drivers than rides available, FHV drivers are forced to either idle in parking spots or circle busy Midtown blocks awaiting a fare that may never come. They burn dirty fossil fuels as a result—ensuring that buses, delivery trucks and commuter cars caught in the traffic they create do the same.
So it’s no surprise that asthma rates in western Queens are worse than the boroughwide average, with up to 1,000 cars still on 21st Street, Astoria, in the middle of the night. Respiratory illnesses are more prevalent the closer you get to the East River, west of 21st Street, where Manhattan is practically a stone’s throw away.
We need a full environmental assessment of this FHV increase—something to which we subject any other big project—which would be required in Intro 838.
Uber will tell you another story, fear-mongering TV ads warning of longer wait times or stranded passengers in places like the mass-transit–starved parts of Queens, should regulations before the City Council go through.
Not true. We are simply asking the T&LC not to issue FHV licenses for one year, so it may fully assess how this glut of cars has impacted the economy, our mass transit system and our environment.
We have seen Uber acknowledge its shortcomings in London, where the city briefly banned its service over poor business practices. Its executives promised last September to have an entirely electric or hybrid fleet by 2020. If Uber agrees to make fixes in London, where almost 9,500 die every year because of polluted air, why not in New York City?
Keep in mind that transportation in the past few years has come neck and neck with electricity as the leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The biggest offenders are not big-rig trucks, but cars, SUVS and vans. FHV companies run rampant in our streets, burning more fossil fuels, keeping air-quality levels in places like Manhattan up while the rest of the city sees decreases.
It is true that we need a more comprehensive mass transit system for Queens, where it’s hard to travel around the borough by bus. FHV companies have indeed filled a gap in the meantime, and they will still be able to open stations in the outer boroughs if there’s a demonstrable need.
Nothing in these bills says we don’t want to work with new FHV companies. We want the playing field leveled with other drivers, who for decades have willingly played by the rules. Instead, Uber would rather spend millions of dollars attacking council members—money that could be used to pay its drivers, who often don’t make a living wage—instead of working with us.
If app-based rideshare companies are as socially responsible as they claim, they’ll come to the table and work with us to make a stronger New York City and a greener Queens.
New York City Council Member Costa Constantinides represents the New York City Council’s 22nd District, which includes his native Astoria along with parts of Woodside, East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights. He serves as the chair of the City Council’s Environmental Protection Committee and sits on four additional committees—Parks, Transportation, For-Hire Vehicles and Land Use—as well as the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.