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New York City, State defend taxi plan in Court of Appeals

By Daniel Wiessner

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - Attorneys for New York City and the state on Wednesday urged the New York Court of Appeals to uphold a state law expanding street hail taxi service and allowing the city to sell 2,000 new taxi medallions, a plan deemed to raise $1.4 billion.

The 2011 law, known as the HAIL Act, was declared null and void last year by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, who found the state legislature violated a constitutional principle known as home rule that bars it from passing laws affecting specific municipalities unless lawmakers find a "substantial state interest."

The three yellow cab groups who sued to overturn the HAIL Act all claimed the state had no substantial interest and had usurped the authority over the taxi system that city officials wielded for 75 years.

At stake is an estimated $1.4 billion in revenue for the city over the next three years, according to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, as well as the ability of cabs to pick up street hails in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs.

A court decision is expected as soon as in May.

Scott Shorr, who argued for the Bloomberg administration, told the Court of Appeals that the lack of street hail service outside of lower Manhattan, and the lack of wheelchair-accessible taxis, both gave the state the pretext to pass the law. The HAIL Act requires that one-fifth of new street hail cabs be accessible to disabled people.

"Millions of people simply cannot get a yellow cab," Shorr said. "This law recognizes that people need a solution."

Randy Mastro, who argued for the Taxicab Service Association, told the court that Bloomberg asked state lawmakers to approve the HAIL Act only when he failed to win the support of the city council.

"Mayor Bloomberg did an end run around his own city council because they didn't bow to his wishes, and now (the city is) telling this court, 'you have to bow to our wishes,'" said Mastro, who served as a deputy mayor under former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The state legislature passed the HAIL Act in 2011, just six days after its introduction.

The cases are Greater New York Taxi Association v. State of New York; Taxicab Service Association v. State of New York; Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade v. State of New York, New York Court of Appeals Nos. 98-100.

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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