Hello to all! I hope everyone has been enjoying the spring weather while it lasts. As New Yorkers, we’re all too familiar with a short spring that quickly leads to a sweltering summer. It has been over a year since this pandemic began, but we are finally starting to feel confident that a return to some type of normalcy is on the horizon.
In the past month, the eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine has been increasing rapidly. As I write this, a story just broke that beginning on April 29th, anyone over the age of 16 can get the vaccine without an appointment at any of the State’s mass vaccination sites. This is a massive improvement over what the requirements were just a month ago. As an FHV driver, you have been eligible for some time, but now all your family and loved ones are eligible and I encourage everyone to get the vaccine as soon as we can.
Mass vaccinations and the improving COVID-19 numbers also led to the momentous announcement from Mayor de Blasio that New York City will fully reopen on July 1st and all restrictions on businesses and cultural institutions will be lifted. While there will certainly be some permanent change among people’s habits and companies’ work from home policies, a full reopening is very welcome news for the black car industry. While the City still needs the Governor’s approval for some things, it seems likely that July 1st is enough time to make a confident decision.
As the pandemic continues improving, there was news this month that Uber and Lyft are boosting driver pay in response to soaring demand for rides. A spokesperson for Uber even stated that drivers in New York are earning an average of $38 per hour, not accounting for tips and expenses. It seems that a combination of incentive payments to get more drivers on the road, as well as higher fares being charged to passengers, has resulted in this boost to average earnings. March 2021 was the best month of total revenue for Uber since before the pandemic started. Enjoy these incentives while they last though because they will not be around forever.
In city news, there was a lot that happened that you should be aware of. At the end of the month, the City Council passed a bill that will ultimately create more car free streets in the city. As you probably know, the Open Streets Program which was started in March 2020 allowed certain roads to be closed temporarily to be used for pedestrian space and for outdoor seating for restaurants. It was started as a temporary measure and extended this past fall. The bill that just passed now formally codifies the program, but more importantly, it establishes funding for it so that the Department of Transportation (DOT) can manage the existing and new street closures throughout the city.
According to the DOT, there are currently about 60 miles worth of street closures in the city. Under the new legislation, this number will have a major increase now that business-improvement districts, community groups and other organizations are able to request resources from the city to maintain street closures. The bill even allows some streets to be closed 24 hours a day. The city as a whole, continues to move in an anti-car direction.
Another big piece of news that will affect drivers was on congestion pricing. After being delayed by the Trump Administration’s inaction, NYC’s congestion pricing plan is finally starting to move forward. Early in April, the Federal Highway Administration told the MTA that they can complete an “environmental assessment”, a much simpler and faster process than a full environmental impact statement, in order to move forward with the plan.
Congestion pricing was originally set to go live at the start of 2021. MTA officials were not sure how long the environmental assessment process would take, but it’s clear that the agency still has a good deal of work to do before drivers start paying congestion tolls in Manhattan.
The MTA board must appoint a six-member Traffic Mobility Review Board to advise on how much tolls will cost drivers as well as determine which groups of drivers should be exempt from them. The state must also cover the tolling area with equipment that can read E-ZPasses and license plates. A vendor is already lined up but they cannot begin the installations until the environmental review is finished. Earlier this year, MTA officials said that the plan would likely not be able to go into effect until 2023 at the earliest. It seems likely now that they may beat that timeline.
On a final note, last month I wrote about driver who was charged with a felony, Grand Larceny, for defrauding The Black Car Fund. He agreed to a plea deal which lowered his charge to petit larceny, had to pay back the full $11,235.18 he fraudulently obtained, and now has a permanent criminal record. This month, a second driver was arrested and criminally charged. This one is a doozy, as the driver had been working while collecting workers’ compensation from The Black Car Fund, while also working for the City. The driver is being charged with grand larceny in the third degree, insurance fraud in the third degree, and falsifying business records in the first degree. All three of these charges are felonies. As I’ve said before, no amount of fraudulently obtained funds are worth ruining your life!
Until next time!