Hello everybody, and welcome to March! Spring is finally making its way to us and I believe I speak for us all when I say we couldn’t be happier. We did not make it here, however, without the first quarter of 2018 putting us through our paces, both professionally and personally.

By the time you are reading this, it will be about a month since we lost a colleague and friend, Douglas Schifter. Avid readers of the Black Car News (which you all should be) will remember Doug from his monthly column, “The Driver’s Seat,” in which he provided the outlook of the Industry from the point of view of the driver – a view many feel often goes unnoticed. His columns were always very critical of those who help control our Industry – calling out absolutely anyone he felt deserved it, explaining in depth why they were wrong. Whether you agreed with his many stances or not, the one thing that always shined through his writing, and through talking to him in person, was his clear and unwavering passion for every aspect of our Industry. Doug clearly took pride in what he did, and was also proud of the people he felt lucky to call his fellow drivers – and it is extremely unfortunate Doug is no longer with us to serve as an advocate.

Clearly, times have never been tougher for us all, and what we need now are good leaders and passionate advocates, the most prime of which we lost with Doug, after he tragically took his own life. At a February 9th Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC) General Member Meeting, the Membership voted to cover all of Mr. Schifter’s funeral expenses, in order to provide some comfort to his loved ones, who are going through the toughest of times. I hope you will all join me in expressing our sympathies to his loved ones.

While Doug took his life and that cannot be helped at this point, what we can do in response is learn from what happened, understand why it happened, and do our best to help other drivers who may feel similarly. As such, we are currently in the process of developing a class with the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), so that all drivers can be made aware of where they can go to get help for any psychological or financial issues they may be suffering. It is important to remember – not any one group of people are free of these issues; they do not discriminate.

Losing one of our own to suicide was a horrible tragedy, and not doing everything in our power to help prevent something like this from happening again is unthinkable. We are committed to doing everything possible to make sure the pain felt by Doug’s loved ones and our Industry at large does not happen again. As more details on this joint initiative become available, I will report back.

Now, I’m sure all of you have heard by now that there is a new group governing the FHV Industries in the City Council, and that is the new Committee for For-Hire Vehicles. Chaired by Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr., the Committee held its first public oversight hearing on TLC enforcement – quite a hot-button issue in the wake of the January 24th attack on TLC Enforcement Officers in the Bronx.

The first to testify at the “standing room only” hearing was NYC TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, as is customary at such hearings. Commissioner Joshi was intensely questioned by the Committee Members and other “guest appearance” Council members for well over an hour, but it was perhaps the testimony of Congress Member Adriano Espaillat of New York’s 13th Congressional District (Harlem, East Harlem, northern Manhattan and the north-west Bronx) which was the most shocking. In the testimony, which you can read in its entirety at the Congress Member’s website, he calls for, among other things, an investigation into selective enforcement, entrapment practices and discrimination within the TLC, to be conducted by the Department of Justice on the federal level. He stated he will personally be requesting such action from the DOJ in the form of a letter he plans to send. As far as we know, to date, no letter of the kind has been sent.

Onto the issue of congestion pricing – something we’ve been hearing about for years on end, but have not actually had to deal as of yet. Well, color us surprised… in the latest round of budget amendments handed down by Governor Andrew Cuomo, noticeably absent are any relating to the cordon-pricing proposal – the “blood” of any congestion pricing plan. Also absent are the specification of any types of surcharges to be put in place, needed in order to assess the accurate expenditure our Industry can expect to be subjected to in the course of completing its normal business. What was included in the latest budget amendments handed down, however, pertain to the following FixNYC panel measures: empowering the city to establish a pilot program to penalize drivers who block the box, permitting state agencies to study the role of buses in congestion, and allowing the FixNYC panel to recommend changes to the city on the use of parking placards. Also worth noting: The amendments also authorize FixNYC to outline the logistics for installing whatever technology is developed to keep track of and charge FHVs the congestion surcharge put in place.

With the final revenue and spending package due April 1, the absence of such budget amendments suggest congestion pricing, in full form, will not make it into the final package. However, we must all keep in mind that it can be passed in a separate bill before the end of the state legislative session, come the end of June. Needless to say, this is something we have been monitoring very closely from years back, all the way up to this most recent push to deploy the initiative on our streets. As any further developments emerge on this, we will be sending out updates in real time to BCAC Members, as well as posting them all on the BCAC Twitter and Facebook pages, which I encourage you all to follow.

Better than following our social media pages and waiting each month to read this column is becoming a BCAC Member! If you do, you’ll receive invitations to crucial Members-only events, like the one we just held on February 9th at the Vista Sky Lounge and Penthouse in Long Island City. The event, which was free of charge, allowed us to have a massive, unified conversation as an Industry united. At the event, the Industry discussed the ongoing issue of FHV Accessibility.

For those who may have some catching up to do, the NYC TLC recently passed rulemaking which demands FHV bases dispatch 25% of all requested rides to accessible vehicles, regardless of whether or not the client requested one. Such a demand would require a catastrophically sizeable investment from the Industry, not to mention threaten a majority of the corporate contracts traditional Black Car and Luxury Limousine bases have serviced for years (even decades), by forcing operators to send such clients vehicles not contractually agreed to and therefore breach their contracts.

The FHV Coalition developed an alternative pilot program which, after rounds of negotiating with the TLC and various Industry stakeholders, was voted on and passed by the TLC Board of Commissioners alongside the catastrophic rule, which also passed the same day.

At the February 9th Member Meeting, an Industry stakeholder presented the BCAC Membership with the details on how such a pilot program would logistically be structured, and what would be required from all operators and stakeholders involved. The TLC has put forward benchmark goals for the FHV Coalition alternative pilot program – if any are not met, the pilot plan would be cancelled on the spot, with the Industry then only having the passed TLC rule to contend with.

The FHV Coalition, BCAC included, is currently still negotiating with the TLC to arrive at a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), while simultaneously litigating the rule itself.

This is quite an important issue to get a grasp of, which is why the February 9th BCAC Member Meeting was so crucial. Thankfully, Edison Interactive, a targeted media marketing and technology company out of Denver fully understood the important need for such a uniform Industry discussion, and made it possible by fully sponsoring the event. Edison Interactive, which is also the newest BCAC Associate Member, presented their fellow BCAC Members with its product offering – in-vehicle tablets with targeted ads, free WiFi, USB ports for device charging and much, much more. The drivers and operators receive a portion of the revenues taken in from advertisers, and the tablets come at no cost for acquisition, installation and service. On top of that, there is an exclusive arrangement between the BCAC and Edison Interactive, so there has never been a better time to get on-board (by joining the BCAC)! I wanted to take the time to thank Edison Interactive for its generosity, and to welcome them to the BCAC. To become a BCAC Member, contact Jason Fromberg at jfromberg@nybcac.org, or by calling 1-929-358-7903.

Finally, I am proud to discuss the media attention The Black Car Fund has been enjoying lately from around the world. For those of you who may not have seen, The Black Car Fund has been featured in a Special Report of the Financial Times of London and in a special NPR series on the future of the economy, just to name a few. As the global conversation on the emerging “Gig Economy” has continued to develop, The Black Car Fund, due to our unique model, has become a highly notable source of information and educated guidance. With The Black Car Fund model having the potential to be applied anywhere there is a paying client for any type of service, understandably, we have caught the attention of legislators, economists, futurists and Industry leaders from around the world, looking at how to provide independent contractors, of which the Gig Economy is entirely comprised of, with benefits traditionally only enjoyed by those with traditional employment. We could not be more excited and honored to have been granted this valuable opportunity to help guide this most important global conversation, and we greatly look forward to continuing to weigh in.

As always, and as I have said multiple places throughout this column, I encourage you all to follow both The Black Car Fund and BCAC on Facebook and Twitter so you always know what’s going on as soon as possible. Don’t let the nice weather fool you – the coming Spring season will be far from all roses.

 

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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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