In September, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) held a hearing on a rule that would require for-hire vehicle (FHV) drivers to transition to wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) at a much faster pace than the taxi transition, and with no financial support. Members of the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) attended the hearing and presented evidence that the rule, as written, is not feasible and would plunge drivers further into poverty. Specifically, the rule would require working drivers to put a greater number of accessible vehicles on the road than the taxi industry – and FHV drivers have just a few months, while taxi drivers had a decade. FHV drivers would also be doing this without the $70 million in funding that the taxi industry received to support the transition.
Even if the transition was funded, most drivers are stuck in long-term loans or leases for their vehicles – so the rule would undermine owner-operators. Aside from that, there simply aren’t enough new accessible vehicles available for sale. We connected with many advocates for people in wheelchairs at the hearing who had not been aware of the harm the rule would cause to working drivers and their families. Due to the November deadline for Black Car News, I am writing this just prior to a meeting The Guild will be holding with these advocates to find a better solution for all involved (check Black Car News next month for details on how the meeting went). The goal for all of us is to improve wheelchair accessible service without plunging drivers and their families into poverty. In the meantime, IDG members have sent more than 500 emails to the TLC opposing the rule as written.
The IDG is also continuing to fight for restroom accessibility for drivers. For years there were no restrooms at JFK airport’s cell phone lot. Over a year ago, the IDG called for the Port Authority to install a restroom with running water in the cell phone lot. The Guild even got Uber to agree to pay for a restroom trailer – but months later, the contract is still sitting on someone’s desk at the Port Authority.
This past summer, our efforts got the media to cover this disgrace. The pressure we put on the airport led to the installation of two port-a-potties at the lot as a temporary measure. However, that is not sufficient. Guild members regularly are forced to call the Port Authority because these facilities are unhygienic and not being maintained. The lack of running water is a threat to public health and leads to unsanitary working conditions for drivers. So, in October, IDG members made over 100 calls to the Port Authority, demanding they sign off on the contract so that drivers can have the dignity (and safety) of a clean restroom.
Restroom access is a major problem in Manhattan as well. The number of FHV drivers serving New York City has surged from 7,890 to over 80,000 in the past six years. However, there are currently only 19 FHV relief stands in Manhattan, the parking spaces set aside for working drivers so they may legally stop for a restroom break. The IDG and Union Fouta have been working with the TLC and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to increase restroom access for all drivers. As a result, nearly a year ago the DOT began the process of adding 10 more FHV stands and converting all existing taxi relief stands to relief stands that accommodate all FHV workers (which includes taxi workers), but work has yet to begin. Meanwhile, fines and health issues are piling up for transportation workers.
We need your help to win on these tough issues facing New York City’s FHV drivers. Please stand with your fellow drivers to protect your livelihood and improve your working conditions. New York City’s drivers came together with the Guild to fight and win in-app tipping, putting millions of dollars in drivers’ pockets in just the first few months. With your help, we can win fair pay and better working conditions.
Visit IDG.ms/BCNjoin to join the Guild or text DRIVE to 64336 for more info.
Ryan Price is Executive Director of the Independent Drivers Guild, an affiliate of the International Association of Machinists, which represents and advocates for more than 60,000 app-based drivers in New York City. We’re Uber, Lyft, Juno, Via workers united for a fair industry.