May the legislature amend the law relating to taxi/livery service in New York City without the approval of the City Council? Answer: Yes.
In Greater New York Taxi Association v. State of New York, 21 NY3d 289 (2013), the issue on appeal was the constitutionality of the so-called “HAIL Act,” which regulates “medallion taxi cabs (or “yellow cabs”) and livery vehicles, vital parts of New York City’s transportation system.” Id. at 296.
According to the Court of Appeals: “the Act’s stated aim is to address certain mobility deficiencies in the City of New York, namely: the lack of accessible vehicles for residents and non-residents with disabilities; the dearth of available yellow cabs in the four boroughs outside of Manhattan (‘outer boroughs’) where residents and non-residents must instead rely on livery vehicles; and the sparse availability of yellow cab service outside Manhattan’s central business district and the two Queens airports, locations where close to 95% of yellow cabs pick up their customers[.]” Id.
Yellow cabs operate under a license or medallion affixed to the outside of the taxi cab as proof that the taxi has been licensed to operate by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The New York State Legislature delegated to the New York City Council “the discretionary authority to register, license and limit the number of yellow cabs, and to establish ordinances and regulations [on] parking and passenger pick-ups and discharges[.]” Id. at 297.
As the Court of Appeals noted: “in contrast to yellow cabs, livery vehicles are prohibited from picking up street hails and may accept passengers only on the basis of telephone contact or other pre-arrangement[.]”. Id. The Court of Appeals also noted that: “this [rule] has not prevented some livery vehicles from illegally accepting street hails.” Id. The problem is that the price of the fare of livery vehicles is not regulated as with yellow cabs, and “a substantial number of livery vehicles are ill-equipped to provide service to persons with disabilities.” Id.
The legislature adopted the HAIL license program “that calls for the [Taxi and Limousine Commission] to issue 18,000 “‘Hail Accessible Inter-borough Licenses’” allowing ‘for-hire vehicles’, i.e., livery vehicles to accept street hails in the outer boroughs and those areas in Manhattan outside its central business district[.]” Id. at 297-98 Yellow cabs retained the exclusive right to pick up street-hailing passengers in Manhattan’s central business district and at the two Queens airports.
Plaintiffs, medallion owners, their representatives and others challenged the HAIL act “on the ground that the regulation of yellow cabs and livery enterprises has always been a matter of local concern”; and that the HAIL Act violated the so-called “Municipal Home Rule Clause” of the New York State Constitution. Id. at 300.
The Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and nullified the HAIL Act. The parties stipulated to a direct appeal to the Court of Appeals on constitutional grounds.
Plaintiffs challenged the HAIL Act “on the ground that the State lack[ed] a substantial interest in the regulation of the yellow cab and livery enterprises in the City, claiming that such regulation has historically been within the province of the City itself[.]” Id. at 301. The Court of Appeals noted that the Municipal Home Rule clause and the New York State legislation delegating authority to the New York City Council “does not mean that [the State] has surrendered its authority to regulate in that area, particularly where the proposed regulation promotes a substantial State in interest[.]” Id. at 302.
In this regard, the Court of Appeals determined that:
“the HAIL Act addresses a matter of substantial concern. This not a purely local issue. Millions of people from within and without the State visit the City annually. Some of these visitors are disabled, and will undoubtedly benefit from the increase of accessible vehicles in the Manhattan central business district and in the outer boroughs. The Act is for the benefit of all New Yorkers, and not merely those residing within the City. Efficient transportation services in the State’s largest City and international center of commerce is important to the entire State. The Act plainly furthers all of these significant goals.
The Court of Appeals then concluded that “not only does the Act, including its challenged provisions, address substantial State concerns, but it also ‘bear[s] a reasonable relationship’ to those concerns.” Id. at 306. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that “Supreme Court erred in concluding that the Act violates the municipal Home Rule Clause[.]” Id.