Yellow for Manhattan? Now Green for Outer Boroughs

When people think about cabs in New York City, they relate to the color yellow on Manhattan streets. Now as new green cabs start popping up in the boroughs the hope is that the color green will also come to mind.

Photo by Xue Yu (Alice): A Green Cab in Astoria

Photo by Xue Yu (Alice): A Green Cab in Astoria

The new type of cabs, officially called Street Hail Livery (SHL), were passed into New York State law and have been cruising streets since June. These licensed vehicles are painted in apple green and can be legally hailed, just like the yellow cabs. The goal is to ensure taxi services for outer borough communities, including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island and north of East 96th Street and West 110th Street in Manhattan, but not the airports. Without directly competing with the existing yellow cabs, this new type of taxi is starting slow but gradually gaining popularity.

“A lot of applications. Look at all these appointment emails that I just received today,” said Kadir Kham, owner of Bangla Car & Limo Service Inc., by pointing at his email inbox on his computer screen referring to hopeful green cab drivers.

Kham is one of the first to get a base license for his company in Astoria, Queens, and now has 25 green cabs registered and 50 to 60 new drivers waiting for the process. Similarly, Tahir Mian, the owner of American Dream Car Service Inc., another licensed SHL base in Astoria, is expecting a wave of green cab drivers in two months, once applications and utility preparation are done. They are part of a fast-growing group of 106 newly licensed SHL bases and 3342 licensed green cab drivers that joined the new system in the first four months. According to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC), only 6,000 green cab drivers’ licenses will be issued each year until it reaches 18,000 (See chart). Mian and Kham both agree that the green cabs are starting to have influence on the industry.

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“People like [the green cabs] because it’s cheap and safer. No more bargaining, go by meter,” said Kham. “Black [cars] are affected a lot. Now they cannot pick up on the street.” In fact the creation of the green cab system has increased the fines the city is giving livery drivers for illegal hails which was common practice in the boroughs. “I gave my old [black car] drivers notice, ‘don’t go without any calls’. A lot of TLC come out and [are] giving tickets, big penalty, $1,500 and $1,000 tickets.” It is just one reason Kham is encouraging his old black car drivers to apply for green car permits.

Green cabs have the same rates, layout and system as the traditional yellow cabs, such as GPS requirements, meters, and credit card machines. The green ones also have more freedom than the traditional black livery cars because besides hails they can also be called for like the old black cars.

So far the green cabs, with their cheaper permits, have been able to attract a large number of new applicants and old drivers wanting to switch. According to NYC TLC, one SHL permit for the green cabs costs $1,500 during the first year, $3,000 for second year, $4,500 for third year and after, and is valid for 3 years (see chart). There are also a maximum of $15,000 grant incentives for drivers to buy a wheel chair accessible green cab. Under the law, 20 percent of the new green cabs must be wheelchair accessible.

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Although the permits for green cabs are much cheaper than yellow medallions, for now drivers are facing challenges to get passengers because of how new the system is. One new green cab driver, Helnando Capada spent a lot of his first two weeks explaining to people what the green cars were and had on average 5 to 7 passengers per day. Another new driver Singh Tarcem echoed Capada’s experience in his first week but was confident “it would get better” once people got it.

“It’s funny I think I have seen them but I didn’t know what they were. And it was my sister who told me about those green cars,” said Carol Longobucco on the street in Astoria. “She really liked the idea of it because she doesn’t have a car and she goes to school in the city. And people are concerned about getting into the gypsy cabs.”

Like Longobucco, most people in Astoria had seen the green cabs on the street but did not know the difference from a yellow cab. However, they were mostly excited about the new form of transportation that’s made available to them.

“People just have to get used to it,” said Kham. “In a few more years, they will know the price and everything.” Kahn praised the program for the boroughs. “It’s good for the community, no downside,”