Congestion Pricing & Access-a-Ride: Tech Breakthroughs

The trend from Medallion Taxicabs to private ride-sharing companies has been swift and disruptive in cities, yet technology improves connectivity in new ways. Traditional taxi and ride-sharing private cars are both seen on city streets. Photo by Brian J. Pape.

Have you adjusted to the “Sharing Economy” yet? In NYC, the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) is supposed to control the ride-hail world, but what has happened? Well, this has been a year, or decade, of turmoil in the ride-hail/ride-share world.

The TLC oversaw 143,674 for-hire vehicles in 2015, including taxis, “black cars”; “livery cars”; commuter “dollar vans”; luxury limousines; and paratransit vehicles. Black cars and the other vehicles cannot be hailed on the street, instead being dispatched by a parent business. Green Taxis, which began in 2013, can only be hailed in the outer boroughs and far north Manhattan.

Way back in 2015, there were 13,587 Medallion Taxicabs in Manhattan, and 14,000 for-hire vehicles associated with one of four ride-sharing companies: JunoLyftUber, and VIA. By 2018, over 80,000 such vehicles were licensed through these four companies, for Manhattan and beyond. No wonder we have congestion!

The shift of ridership spelled bankruptcy for many Medallion Taxicabs and drivers; some shifted to the other companies. Fast-growing companies like Uber started treating their drivers so badly, a major scandal ensued, and now we have legislation intended to force those companies to pay their drivers a living wage.

Coupled with deteriorating public mass transit, political pressure may finally be strong enough to pass “Congestion Pricing” state legislation, meaning, vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street (in one version), will be charged a fee, like a toll. The City imposed $2.50 added for every ride below 96th Street, or $0.75 for pooled rides, such as VIA. Supposedly, these extra tolls are to benefit the MTA, our mass transit system. If you are wondering how VIA differs from other ride-share companies, or from taxis, Crain’s had an excellent article in their March 11, 2019 edition. To learn more about taxis, check out

Out of this mess of congestion has come a ray of good news for seniors and the 150,000 NYers who need special transit services. The state provides the MTA with $millions to broker rides for those with disabilities, which in the past meant either radio-dispatched “black cars” or the special blue-and-white Access-A-Ride vans, averaging a cost to the state of about $64 per trip. On-time service was spotty, according to complaints to MTA.

A pilot program begun October 2017 has now passed its test, and as of March 2019, Curb Mobility has a 3-year $116.5 million contract to route Access-A-Ride requests to taxis, green cabs, and other drivers for the first time, when the vast majority of requests do not require wheelchair-accessible vehicles. For drivers, their fares will be 50% higher than their average regular fare, and it will cost the state an average of half of what Access-A-Ride would cost them. Due to technology, multiple ride choices can be programmed, resulting in quicker, reliable service and more fares for taxi drivers.

Curb can also offer rides through VIA’s mobile-app. Those with special needs sign up for this special service, but anyone with a mobile device can download the VIA app from (and use promo code “brian4g2” to get $10 credit on your fares).

Happy riding!

Brian J. Pape, AIA, LEED-AP, is an architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is Architecture Editor.

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