Accessibility, Illegal Street Hails and The Fund’s New App

Hello everyone. The month of July has been quite an interesting one for our industry. I know I say that a lot, but this month in particular, our industry was dealt several potentially game-changing hands of cards which must now be dealt with. I’ll get into it all later.

On a more positive note, as you read this, The Black Car Fund will have just been wrapping up yet another successful series of driver outreach events held at the JFK Travel Plaza, letting drivers know about their benefits, our all new driver app, as well as some of the newer benefits many drivers do not yet know about. Let’s get into it!

First, let’s talk about some proposed rules being put forward by the NYC TLC. At a public hearing scheduled to be held in its offices on Thursday, September 28th, the Commission will propose a rule requiring all FHV bases (yes, ALL) to dispatch 25% of its rides to accessible vehicles by the year 2021, phased-in via 5% increments per year, starting at a 10% requirement in 2018. Under the proposed rule, for bases which fail to meet the required percentages per respective year, there will be a $50 fine for each 100 trips by which the base missed the percentage of trips it was required to dispatch to accessible vehicles. Failure to dispatch the required percentages per year don’t only come with fines; for bases who fail to dispatch at least half of the yearly required percentage run the risk of having their base license suspended for 30 days, and potentially even revoked.

The proposed rules also cover the quality of service the disabled riding public should expect, which is equivalent service as received by the non-disabled riding public. Existing rules mention response time, the fare charged, service availability, the ability to accept reservations and restrictions based on trip purpose, however, the newly proposed rule adds vehicle type being offered. This would appear to be particularly problematic for a black car or luxury limousine base, seeing as how a basic wheelchair accessible van would be a clear violation of the rules.

Without getting in to the complicated and severe financial implications this would have on the FHV industry, it boils down to the fact that as written, this proposed rule and its respective percentage requirements would nearly cripple multiple sectors of the already-suffering FHV industry; especially considering this would be a completely unfunded mandate, unlike the yellow sector where subsidies are awarded to assist owners. The BCAC is in strong opposition to this proposed rule, and we have begun to organize with the rest of the FHV industry to stand uniformly opposed. I cannot stress enough the importance of joining and being an active participant in an industry group, regardless of which group you choose to join, so long as it corresponds to your respective sector.

I’ve said it before: Numbers are the “name of the game,” so to speak, when it comes to an industry group having the power to facilitate change. While in the past I’ve said there has never been a more important time to join an industry group, at this moment, it has never been truer, as this proposed rule would without a doubt lead to the closing of a good amount of bases – to the loss of jobs within our communities. I also implore you all to attend and TESTIFY at the TLC hearing on this issue, scheduled for Thursday, September 28th at 10 AM at its offices at 33 Beaver Street, 19th Floor, NY, NY 10004. Let the Commissioners know how these rules will destroy your business. Make them face you and acknowledge that the many people that depend on your base for their livelihoods will lose their income.

I’m sure that was quite worrisome to read, so let’s move on to some positive things. First positive thing: on July 20th, Council Member Dan Garodnick introduced 1662-2017, a bill aimed at curbing the current rampant practice of illegal representation and fare solicitation which occurs mainly at our local airports. Back in 2016, CBS 2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer conducted an investigation and sting operation at LaGuardia International Airport, and found that there were an alarming number of individuals posing primarily as Uber drivers by affixing the company’s logo to their private vehicle and physically walking up to unsuspecting tourists and business travelers to negotiate fares with them, assuring them all was legal and legitimate. We’ve all heard the horror stories about fake drivers demanding cash payment, and then renegotiating the fare mid-trip, demanding the passenger withdraw additional cash from an ATM. Clearly, there is no consumer protection in that respect when accepting a ride from those who I can only call hustlers. In another respect, it is even that much more dangerous considering these vehicles most likely lack the required insurance to do for-hire work, have not submitted to TLC inspection, nor is the driver a TLC licensee, meaning there is no way of knowing whether your driver is a criminal, drug user, safe driver, etc. The list truly goes on and on; there are enough reasons as it is to address this matter aggressively, but mix that with the fact that this illegal practice is costing you all money in lost potential fares, and this makes its way to the top of the list almost of things we need to address immediately.

The bill, Intro. 1662 put forward by Councilman Garodnick suggests imposing severe fines, as high as $7,000 for repeat offenders, on these individuals, as well as strict license suspension and revocation requirements. In response, the TLC has offered its strong support of the bill, even suggesting that in the near future it will look to acquire the power to confiscate offenders’ vehicles and auction them off for the proceeds. We will be monitoring the status of this bill very closely and I will be sure to report back to you all its progress, as this bill isn’t just important to us as an industry, but to NYC as a tourist destination and community for us all.

Finally, for some news from The Black Car Fund. First off, our all new Black Car Fund app for drivers is being downloaded rapidly, which means more drivers now have the ability to report their work-related accident as soon as possible, resulting in an accelerated claims process which is good for everyone. So for all you base owners out there that are Member Bases of The Black Car Fund, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to have your drivers install the app! The app was a main topic of conversation all throughout our JFK Travel Plaza driver outreach event series. Drivers from bases all over New York State met with members of our team to learn about the benefits already afforded to them at no cost to them, such as our new $50,000 Driver Death Benefit – something almost all drivers were thrilled to hear about. Peace of mind for your family’s future, I think we all can agree, is priceless. Also a main topic of discussion throughout were our free classes, such as the state-certified defensive driving course and our Wellness STEP class. As you may know, these classes have been very popular among drivers affiliated with our Member Bases since we actually pay drivers as much as $300 simply to attend. Until now, however, our Black Car Safety & Wellness Center in Long Island City has been the exclusive location to attend these classes. Through a partnership with the IDG (Independent Drivers Guild), our state certified defensive driving course, eligible for the $300 payout, can now be attended at the brand new IDG Brooklyn center, located in Bushwick at 456 Johnson Avenue. For more information, visit www.blackcarsafetyclasses.com.

That seems to be it for me this month, but I will be closely monitoring these overly important issues and update you all accordingly. For immediate information, I recommend you follow The Black Car Fund and BCAC on both Facebook and Twitter. Have a great month everyone!

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Article by Ira Goldstein

Ira Goldstein is Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund, Chief Operating Officer of the Black Car Assistance Corporation and Treasurer of the Coalition of Transportation Associations.

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