Livery Cab Law Dealt Judicial Blow

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s plan to grant livery cabs the right to accept street hails was derailed on June 1, 2012, when New York State Judge Arthur Engoron invoked the home rule clause of the State constitution and enjoined the City from implementing the State law passed in 2011. The State law would have allowed 30,000 liveries to accept street hails, a right currently enjoyed only by yellow cabs. Advocates for the law claimed that the absence of yellow cabs from parts of the City would have been corrected by allowing licensed livery vehicles to accept street hails.

An earlier commentary criticized the law because it would make both yellow cab and livery service worse. Judge Engoron, however, based his decision on the State constitution, not on policy.

The New York State constitution grants home rule protection for cities as a shield against State intrusions into matters that ought to be handled at the local level.  Matters of  “property, affairs and government” are to be left to the cities, limited only to consistency with State law. There is a gap in the constitutional shield however. The State can override a local law by demonstrating a State concern. This was the argument made by Mayor Bloomberg when he went to the State legislature to enact his livery cab bill when the City Council would not go along.

Judge Engoron did not buy the state concern argument. Local governments everywhere jealously guard control of taxis; try to find a non-locally licensed taxi at a Metro North or Long Island Rail Road station. For seventy years the City Council regulated New York City’s taxis as a local matter. The State law, Judge Engoron held, poked too big a hole in the constitutional shield when it told the City how to regulate its taxis.

With implementation of the law judicially halted, the Bloomberg Administration should rethink its strategy. To the extent inadequate cab service exists, there are less controversial fixes. These include cab stands on commercial streets, increase the number of yellow cabs generally or create outer borough yellow cabs. What should be the correct mix ought to be decided by the elected representatives of the people “directly affected by the taxi service” as Judge Engoron ruled, not the State legislature in distant Albany.

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