City Council looks for answers on ride-hailing regulations

As the New York City Council sought answers on ride-hailing rules, acting TLC head Bill Heinzen was on the spot.

Lyft car

Lyft car Roman Tiraspolsky/Shutterstock

A New York City Council oversight hearing on recent for-hire vehicle regulations on Tuesday ran the gamut of issues facing ride-hail drivers, from competition for riders to a new cap on time spent cruising without passengers. Bill Heinzen, acting commissioner of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, testified before the Council’s Committee on Transportation, saying that the city’s new minimum wage rule for drivers has led to new average gross hourly earnings of $28, which the TLC says will put drivers on track for a nearly $10,000 raise from current annual earnings. 

Despite the apparent improvements caused by some of the city’s regulations, drivers’ groups still take issue with reports of progress and questions remain about the regulations’ possible unintended consequences. Lyft, for example, has tried to increase its utilization rate, because the more time cars spend cruising without passengers, the more the company has to pay its drivers. To boost utilization, Lyft has started kicking drivers off its app in areas and at times when demand is low, garnering blowback from driver groups like the Independent Drivers Guild. 

At Tuesday’s hearing, City Councilman Brad Lander said that a company kicking drivers off an app to inflate their utilization rate is a clear violation of the spirit of the minimum pay law – and on top of that, disproves a point ride-hail companies have long made about their drivers being in control of their work. Ride-hail companies “can’t have it both ways,” Lander said, referring to companies calling their drivers independent contractors while controlling the hours that they’re able to work.

The fight over classification is one that New York will take up at the state level in the coming months, following California’s advancement of a bill that will classify some gig workers as employees and not independent contractors.