Mike Bloomberg's next career: Taxi magnate?
The pugnacious billionaire mayor reportedly threatened to 'destroy' this NYC industry once he was out of office. Here are some tips, in case he follows through.
New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg earned his billions by realizing Wall Street would pay up for high-quality data, as long as he delivered it faster than anyone else.
The question now is whether he'll take those talents and apply them to a new industry: New York's huge fleet of yellow taxis.
Bloomberg, known for his outspoken opinions and eagerness to take on entrenched businesses (such as his battle against the soda industry), reportedly threatened to challenge New York taxi magnate Gene Freidman when the mayor's term expires in January, CBS New York reports.
Freidman says Bloomberg told him, "Come Jan. 1, when I am out of office, I am going to destroy your (expletive) industry. I am going to destroy all you (expletive) guys."
Bloomberg told CBS the only thing he remembers was watching a "great game" (the pair had encountered each other at a Knicks basketball game.)
The animosity stems from a court battle over Bloomberg's "taxis of tomorrow," with a judge earlier this month blocking his administration's plan for a next-generation taxi fleet.
Freidman, who controls $1 billion worth of medallions (essentially licenses to operate taxis) and is the CEO of Taxi Club Management, told the New York Post that Bloomberg was "not 'mayorly' at all. He cursed at me."
The fact is Freidman may have gotten a taste of the authentic Bloomberg. As a former reporter for Bloomberg News, part of his financial news and data company Bloomberg LP, I had the occasion to sit in on some meetings with him long before he became mayor. I can tell you that four-letter words aren't strangers to his vocabulary.
At one Bloomberg conference during the dot-com boom, when some companies were going public without turning a dime in profits, he told his guests -- including Meg Whitman, then of eBay (EBAY) -- that he wished them well but that his goal was to make money.
The taxi industry is nothing if not profitable. The city's taxi medallions have steadily increased in value, with some recently selling for $1.1 million.
But if hizzoner were to step in, here are three ways Bloomberg could improve the NYC taxi system:
Expand the number of cabs: The city has capped the number medallions at 13,237, fewer than the almost 17,000 cabs that roamed New York City's streets in 1932. That may explain why it's often so hard to find a cab -- especially, it seems, when you really need one.
Shuffle drivers' shift changes: If you've tried to grab a cab between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., you know it can be about as easy as finding filet mignon at a vegan restaurant. That's because that's the hour cabbies change shifts. Bloomberg could apply his data skills to this problem, ensuring a steady stream of taxis regardless of the hour.
Use smartphones to hail taxis: Instead of standing in the rain trying to flag down a cab, how about using an iPhone? A judge blocked Bloomberg's plan for just such an app earlier this year. But if Bloomberg gets his way, maybe NYC will actually see some high-tech taxis hit the streets.
Aimee Picchi is a former reporter of Bloomberg News. Follow her on Twitter at @aimeepicchi.
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Reports say the generous benefactor behind the huge gratuities is a former PayPal executive.
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