The fight over whether smartphone apps that allow New Yorkers to hail yellow cabs will be permitted became more convoluted this afternoon, when City Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Elizabeth Crowley announced on the steps of City Hall that they were joining a lawsuit against the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s e-hail app pilot program.
The lawsuit, originally filed last month by the Livery Roundtable and the Black Car Assistance Corporation, argues that the Taxi & Limousine Commission, which created the program in December, lacked authority to start the program without City Council approval.
However, a source directed Betabeat towards records from the New York City Campaign Finance Board and New York City’s Doing Business Portal, which show that the two Council Members joining the case both received financial contributions from livery and black car lobbyists as well as the plaintiffs in the case. Council Member Rodriguez, a former livery driver himself, received $3,000 during 2010 and 2011 from both Dial 7 and Carmel, two of the lead plaintiffs in the case. Council Member Crowley was given $2,200 between 2010 and 2011 from lobbying firm Constantinople and Vallone, which represents the two black car companies, as well as from their lawyer, Randy Mastro.
Mastro, a former deputy mayor in the Giuliani administration, has been a big player this year in financing New York campaigns, contributing over $58,000 to Bill Thompson’s mayoral campaign, according to the New York Post.
For Rodriguez, Dial 7 and Carmel count as some of his top non-Union donors, and Avik Kabessa, Carmel’s CEO, is also President of the Livery Roundtbale.
Although Council Member Rodriguez’s office said no official comment would be given until tomorrow morning, Eric Yun, Crowley’s Communications Director, called the donations a coincidence that was diverting attention away from the real issues.
“These donations were made more than two years ago, and Council Member Crowley is close to the Vallone family, having worked with Vallone’s son Peter Vallone Jr. in the City Council for years. Peter Vallone and Anthony Constantinople’s firm represent many clients in the city,” Yun said. “It’s clear that e-hail breaks City laws on taxi dispatching. It also opens the door for possible discrimination, and any other discussion about the lawsuit is a red herring designed to obfuscate this fact.”
The TLC has been pushing hard for app usage, with taxi drivers today spending about 40 percent of their day with empty cabs searching for passengers. The Commission sees the apps as a way to spread out taxis across the five boroughs instead of congesting them into the main corridors of Midtown and Lower Manhattan.
As we’ve noted before, every stakeholder in the process seems to have an agenda. And these further legal complications are sure to also anger app developers such as Uber and Hailo, which were slated to launch before the lawsuit filing.