Peralta livery cab town hall turns heated

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A town hall held by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) on the bill to bring livery cabs that can be hailed to the outer boroughs erupted into impassioned statements and heated arguments, mostly in Spanish, from industry members on separate sides of the plan.

More than 100 people crowded into the Langston Hughes Library, at 100-01 Northern Blvd., Monday for a presentation on the controversial bill, which passed both houses of the state Legislature last month but has not yet been signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The bill calls for 30,000 permits that will be issued allowing livery cabs to pick up passengers in Upper Manhattan and the outer boroughs, plus the sale of 1,500 yellow taxi medallions, 569 of which will be for handicapped-accessible vehicles. Peralta was one of only two Queens senators to vote for the plan, the other being Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans).

Peralta did not explain his vote but brought in a representative from the city Taxi & Limousine Commission to go over the details of the plan.

“This is more of an informational meeting,” Peralta said.

Adrian Gonzalez, senior analyst at TLC, said the highest number of street hails occurred in Manhattan, the city’s airports, along Queens Boulevard and in Brooklyn Heights. Beyond that, the most street hail demand in Queens comes from where Broadway meets Grand Avenue in Elmhurst and Jamaica Avenue-Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica. Broadway and Grand Avenue averages 39 street hails an hour and Jamaica Avenue-Parsons Boulevard averages 16 street hails an hour.

Gonzalez said the new cabs, which will be known as “Borough Taxis,” will have street hail privileges anywhere in the city but not south of East 96th Street or West 110th Street in Manhattan. Phoned-in pickups will still be available anywhere. The taxis will be credit/debit card ready, be metered and have a distinct color and markings from their yellow medallion brethren.

“You can spot it out on the street. You can spot it in a picture,” Gonzalez said.

After Gonzalez’s presentation, the town hall was opened up for questions, but many used the opportunity to speak for or against the plan, often making five-minute speeches in Spanish that received applause or condemnation from the mostly Spanish-speaking crowd.

Avik Kabessa, chair of the New York Independent Livery Driver Benefit Fund, said the plan had serious flaws and that 20 community boards across the city rejected it. Some agreed while others, like Cira Angeles of Riverside Brokerage, said he was disseminating false information. Another man held up a tote bag full of citations he had received for street hails.

Peralta said what happens next is ultimately up to the governor, but if the bill becomes law, the state will work with the TLC and analyze the various costs.

“I think there’s always a bit of hesitation with change and that’s understand­able,” Gonzalez said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 12:01 pm, October 12, 2011
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