By Steven J. Shanker, Esq.
In August 2018, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Local Law 147, pausing the issuance of new FHV licenses for one year – except for wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) and electric vehicles (EVs). The EV exception was later abolished by the TLC in June 2021.
A review by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) of for-hire vehicle (FHV) licenses was conducted a year later, and every six months thereafter. The TLC is to review the number of FHV Licenses, according to section 19-550(b)(2) of the Administrative Code of the City of New York, to determine the number of FHV licenses that should be issued, if any. This requirement is pursuant to TLC Rule § 59A-06(a)(1).
In August 2019, the TLC extended the pause on issuing new FHV licenses and conducted its first review in August of 2020. At that time, the TLC determined that no additional FHV licenses would be issued. In February 2021, the TLC’s review of congestion, service levels, driver income, and license attrition found that there is no need to issue additional FHV licenses. In February 2021, August 2021 and February 2022, the TLC’s review concluded that there were sufficient existing FHV licenses to satisfy current passenger demand.
Just about everyone in the FHV industry waited with bated breath for the August 2022 report to see if the TLC would lift the cap, continue with the cap, or at least allow existing stakeholders an opportunity for a modicum of growth. The traditional Black Car and Livery sectors had hoped the TLC would permit them to grow by at least allowing some new licenses for bases suffering from a devastating lack of available drivers. Many hoped to at least reach the approximate number of affiliated vehicles they had before the COVID pandemic took hold.
Unfortunately, there was no such luck for the traditional sectors of the FHV industry. The TLC’s August 2022 report concluded that the TLC would issue up to 1,000 new FHV licenses, all of which will be restricted to EVs. It is a laudable goal to continue to electrify the TLC-licensed fleet, help drive the demand for and spur the development of more public and private charging infrastructure, and to allow drivers to avoid the high costs of gasoline – but this will not help traditional bases, who need it most.
While the availability and demand for EVs and charging infrastructure is a consideration in the TLC’s decision-making process, it is not the only consideration. The TLC is to evaluate outer borough service to determine if new licenses should be issued. The TLC ‘s report stated that since the previous review conducted in February 2022, FHV trips in all outer boroughs have increased significantly. Interestingly enough, the TLC’s report admitted that it based this determination on the trip data from high-volume FHV (HVFHV) services like Uber and Lyft.
Why would the TLC not even take into consideration the trip data from non-HVFHS companies and the needs of the traditional sectors of the industry? It is as if the traditional Black Car and Livery companies are relegated to second-class citizenship. It is as if the TLC is trying to regulate the traditional Black Car and Livery sectors OUT of business.
We all know that most of the drivers who hold FHV licenses are affiliated with Uber. After all, it was Uber who flooded the market to begin with. It was their actions that led to the need for the cap in the first place.
While it is true that any base can dispatch a trip to an Uber-affiliated vehicle, the reality is that most Black Car and Livery companies do not do this. Livery bases do not typically dispatch to black cars because of the added sales tax requirement. The added cost is often cost-prohibitive for the people who are the long-time clientele of the Livery sector. The traditional clientele of the black car sector expects to be picked up in something more “higher end” than the typical Uber-affiliated vehicle, which is a Toyota or Hyundai. As such, the Black Car and Livery sectors typically only dispatch to vehicles affiliated with their own base.
The Black Car and Livery sectors lost many drivers due to the pandemic, and the TLC won’t even permit one single FHV license to be issued so the traditional and long-standing companies who built this industry can recover from its losses. Not allowing the traditional Black Car and Livery sectors to increase the number of their own affiliated vehicles means more people will utilize Uber and Lyft.
How can this in any way be equitable? All you have to do is look at the numbers. The livery industry has been in mass decline since 2015, the number of livery vehicles available for livery bases to send dispatches to has been reduced from approximately 25,000 vehicles to less than 8,000.
The livery industry needs more licensees. A continuation of the cap will eventually strangle the livery industry right out of existence. There are only so many times a customer will call a livery base for transportation and be turned away due to a lack of available drivers.
It is a crying shame that the honest, hard-working immigrants that came to this country with the proverbial dollar and a dream cannot stay in business anymore. No new FHV licenses for the livery and traditional black car industry means that the companies that created the FHV industry and made it into a robust part of the New York City economy will see further declines, loss of business, and loss of revenue.
Once again, the TLC has used the cap on the issuance of new licenses as a means to determine who will be the winners and who will be the losers in the FHV industry.