New York City Taxis and the New York State Legislature: What Is Left of the State Constitution's Home Rule Clause after the Court of Appeals Decision in the HAIL Act Case?

By Kaplan, Roberta A. | Albany Law Review, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

New York City Taxis and the New York State Legislature: What Is Left of the State Constitution's Home Rule Clause after the Court of Appeals Decision in the HAIL Act Case?


Kaplan, Roberta A., Albany Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

This past June, the Court of Appeals, in a unanimous opinion, upheld the constitutionality under the New York State Constitution of a plan, passed by the New York State Legislature in early 2011, which allows livery cabs to pick up passengers in the boroughs outside of Manhattan who hail the livery cabs from the street. (1) The statute also expands the number of traditional yellow cabs accessible to persons with disabilities. (2) The ruling was a victory for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had turned to the state legislature to pass the Hail Accessible Inter-borough License Act, known as the HAIL Act, (3) when the New York City Council did not act on his original proposal. (4) Without the City Council's approval, however, the law could only survive under the New York State Constitution's Home Rule Clause if it served a "substantial" state interest. (5) While the Court of Appeals found that it did, and while the court's decision will presumably make it easier for passengers outside of Manhattan to hail livery cabs, this convenience does not come without a real cost: the court's cursory dismissal of the plaintiffs' home rule challenge leaves open critical questions about the scope of the State Constitution's protection of local governance. (6) Although the Court of Appeals' ruling does not bode well for the future of home rule in New York State, as discussed below, there are a number of ways that the Court of Appeals can provide guidance to both state and local governments going forward.

II. THE HAIL PROGRAM

Prior to the enactment of the HAIL Act, only licensed yellow taxicabs with medallions (7) were permitted to pick up passengers on the streets of New York City or at the city's airports. (8) Another category of for-hire cabs, known as livery cabs, were only allowed to pick up passengers who had prearranged for their pick-up by telephone or otherwise. (9) The HAIL Act dramatically changes this status quo by allowing livery drivers with new HAIL licenses to accept street hails in the outer boroughs and in northern Manhattan (above East 96th Street on the East Side and above West 110th Street on the West Side), but not at New York City airports. (10) Yellow taxis will still maintain the exclusive right to pick up passengers on the streets of Manhattan outside of the "HAIL zone" and at the airports. (11) In order to qualify for a HAIL license, livery vehicles will have to install taxi meters to measure the fare, among other requirements. (12)

The HAIL Act further directs the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to issue the new HAIL licenses in three installments over the course of three years. (13) Twenty percent of the new HAIL livery licenses are to be set aside for wheelchair accessible vehicles. (14) In order to further increase the number of handicap-accessible for-hire vehicles in New York City, the HAIL Act allows the City, "acting by the mayor alone," to direct the TLC to issue up to two-thousand new medallions for traditional yellow taxicabs, provided that they are wheelchair accessible. (15) In addition, the Act requires the TLC to establish a program to provide grants totaling up to fifty-four million dollars to support the introduction of accessible vehicles into the HAIL fleet. (16)

The potential benefits of the statutory scheme are clear. Along with increasing the number and accessibility of for-hire vehicles in underserved areas, the HAIL Act legalizes, and hence regulates, what was previously an unlicensed and under-regulated industry. (17) Passengers hailing HAIL-licensed cars can now be secure in knowing that livery vehicles have been inspected for safety and benefit from upgrades the program requires: taxi meters, which ensure that passengers pay a fair rate without having to haggle; Global Positioning System (GPS) locators, which help passengers recover lost property; and credit card readers, which make it easier for passengers to pay. …

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