Tragedies in driver communities
The beginning of 2018 has been difficult. Last month, for-hire vehicle driver and Black Car News columnist Douglas Schifter ended his life, and we learned of other suicides in the driver community as well. The despair and deep pressures Mr. Schifter felt is of great concern to us at the TLC, and the words he shared resonated deeply with us.
Suicide always leaves unanswered questions for those left behind. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, there is a free, confidential helpline called NYC Well that is always available and accessible in 200 languages. You can call 1-888-NYCWell, or text “WELL” to 65173. However, if you are ever in immediate danger of harming yourself or others, please call 911.
Another difficult moment for us as an agency this year was when two of our officers were attacked in late January. They had stopped a TLC-licensed vehicle operated by an unlicensed driver, after they saw him pick up an illegal street hail. The driver had a suspended DMV license, as well as open criminal charges for reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident. He posed a real danger to the passengers. After our officers issued the summons, a crowd surrounded them, blocked their vehicle with other cars, and verbally threatened them. One man smashed in two of the TLC vehicle’s windows with a metal baseball bat. Miraculously, our officers were not harmed, and we are confident the people involved in this violence will be prosecuted.
Very simply, attacks on our officers will never be tolerated. Some have alleged that this act was used to express discontent with our City’s laws. However, violence has never been the way to begin a dialogue, and the TLC meets frequently with drivers and industry groups to hear any issues they want to raise.
Illegal activity poses a danger to the public, and it undermines the work of legitimate TLC-licensed drivers, who have done all the right things to work as professional drivers in New York City and provide for their families.
For-Hire Vehicle Committee
Last month, the City Council held the first meeting of the For-Hire Vehicle Committee. My testimony in English and Spanish can be found here: www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/about/testimony.shtml.
At the hearing, I discussed how the Council’s local law governs penalties for illegal street hails, not TLC rules. Local law prohibits illegal street hails, and the fines attached to them ranging from $500 to $10,000, revocation and forfeiture. I expressed my willingness to discuss how these laws operate, as well as those governing Critical Driver points, to see if there are amendments that can be made that would make them simpler for drivers to comply with without sacrificing the public safety these laws protect.
We also spoke in our testimony about the outreach the TLC does with drivers. Our new head of enforcement, Deputy Commissioner Dianna Pennetti, has greatly increased our enforcement’s engagement with our licensees, which has been very fruitful for our officers and licensees. TLC enforcement officials have had many productive meetings with base owners, drivers and elected officials, and they will continue to be available to our regulated industries. I also regularly meet with bases and drivers of all sectors to support our licensees, and hear their concerns.
The TLC is very pleased with the successes of the citywide Accessible Dispatch program so far. As we noted in our last column, the program had a full launch in January, following a beta launch last fall. Since the beta launch, there have been almost 36,000 trips dispatched to wheelchair-accessible taxicabs. Passengers have enjoyed accessible service in a broad range of New York City neighborhoods, including Staten Island’s Dongan Hills, Brooklyn’s East New York and the Bronx’s Riverdale. We look forward to seeing this program grow and thrive, as well as the number of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs continue to expand. Each accessible trip means more economic opportunity for drivers, and more freedom and mobility for the riding public.