In October, the New York Council Committee on Transportation, chaired by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, held an oversight hearing about the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s (TLC’s) response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the TLC’s driver assistance programs. The Committee also held a public hearing for comments regarding two bills and one resolution:
- Int 0018-2018 is a local law to amend the city’s administrative code regarding the 30-day inspection grace period given to for-hire vehicles (FHVs). Sponsored by Council Member Cabrera, it would allow FHVs waiting to be inspected at a TLC inspection site to be used for up to 30 days, if the vehicle had previously been properly inspected pursuant to DMV laws and rules, and was shown to adhere to all other FHV-related laws and rules. The vehicle’s passengers would need to be informed it was awaiting inspection by the TLC.
- T2020-6751: This Local Law seeks to suspend monetary liability for parking violations issued to essential workers, including TLC-regulated drivers. Sponsored by Council Member Rodriguez, it would eliminate fines for essential workers for parking violations issued from the effective date of the COVID-19 state disaster emergency through September 30, 2020. It would serve as an affirmative defense that the vehicle’s owner or operator was an essential worker at the time of the violation. Proper documentation would serve as an FHV or taxi driver’s defense. Jarmoszuk noted that drivers serving free food were protected against parking fines (as long as they weren’t parked in a spot for more than 20 minutes), but did not expressly support the bill.
- Res 0098-2018 called upon the New York State Legislature to pass legislation making it a felony to assault a driver licensed by the NYC TLC. Sponsored by Council Members Rodriguez and Brannan, it would provide an additional layer of protection for TLC-licensed drivers. It’s already a felony to assault or injure transit workers, traffic enforcement agents, and nurses, among other public servants. City Council noted that TLC-licensed drivers deserve this protection, due to the vulnerable nature of their work.
The next step in the legislative process would be a vote by the Transportation Committee to send one or more of these items to the full Council for a vote. The Committee could also make amendments to the language. A hearing for a vote for the above legislation had not been scheduled, as of late October.
The TLC’s Response to COVID-19 and Driver Assistance Programs
TLC Commissioner/Chair Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk testified about her agency’s response to the pandemic and described actions taken in the past six months. In her testimony, Jarmoszuk discussed the following:
TLC Driver Resource Center (DRC): One of the largest repositories for driver resources available anywhere, the DRC was launched in response to the spate of driver suicides in recent years, providing assistance with the following:
- Financial counseling
- Legal services geared towards medallion owner-drivers – including loans, renegotiating financing agreements, debt collection, and bankruptcy
- Driver protection services
- Health and mental health resources
- Public benefits and support.
The Driver Resource Center is currently operating virtually due to the pandemic but will have a physical location in the future.
TLC Guidance and Information for Drivers
The TLC has updated its website to include COVID pandemic updates – including guidance on general health, factsheets, guidance for vehicle operators, health care and medical insurance access, and details about the Black Car Fund’s telemedicine program, including how to apply and eligibility requirements.
TLC Food Delivery Program
When ridership plummeted, due to the pandemic, the TLC created a Driver Food Delivery Program, allowing TLC-licensed drivers to deliver food for COVID-19-vulnerable and food-insecure New Yorkers not served through existing programs. Drivers were provided with routes, compensated $53/route – $40 base pay, plus $13 for gas, tolls. The program, which was phased out, earned taxi and FHV drivers more than $39 million in fares through approximately 500 million deliveries.
TLC Operations Go Virtual
Many in-person services previously handled at the TLC’s Long Island City office went remote, due to the pandemic – including licensing, hearings, and violation settlements. Social distancing requirements forced the TLC to limit capacity for appointments and instead use online options when possible. Hearings and settlements are being done remotely, through email, and virtually.
- As part of an effort to ensure drivers and customers are protected, the TLC is allowing all vehicles without partitions the opportunity to have temporary partitions installed by approved partition installers.
- The TLC is allowing FHV owners to place their licenses “on-hold” through a storage process for up to 180 days.
At the City Council hearing, the following were introduced and/or voted on:
- No. 1584-A seeks to require annual financial disclosure from each person with an interest in a taxicab license (passed by a unanimous vote).
- No. 1608-A would require the TLC to evaluate the character and integrity of taxicab brokers, agents, and licensees (passed unanimously).
- No. 1610-A seeks to create a TLC “office of financial stability” (passed unanimously).
- No. 2114 would require a percentage of taxis and FHVs to be equipped with child restraint systems. Operators of high-volume FHV services would need to have 20% of their vehicles furnished with child car seats.
- No. 2125 would offer guidance on the safe reopening and operation of city businesses in response to the pandemic. It would require the Commissioner of Emergency Management, the Commissioner of Small Business Services, the Commissioner of Health and Mental Hygiene, and other agency heads with relevant expertise to develop guidance to facilitate and support the safe reopening of city businesses.
- No. 2126 would require the department of small business services to report on the impact of COVID-19. It would require the Department of Small Business Services to submit to the Mayor, City Council and the Public Advocate a report on small businesses citywide, including information about lost revenue, jobs eliminated, and businesses permanently closed.