Hello everybody… This month, I want to talk about power. This might be a controversial article, but I am going to make a new argument to increase TLC prosecutorial power through regulation that all parts of the for-hire and taxi industries should support.

Let me explain. I have been a lawyer representing TLC drivers since 1995 and God knows that I have had my differences with TLC and the prosecution unit. I was even banned from entering TLC by a Commissioner for taking a picture inside the TLC hearing room in 1996. It is true. (FYI: I threatened legal action and was let back in and have been practicing in TLC courts ever since.)

I know TLC can be strong-handed and may seem abusive to drivers trying to earn a living on the streets of this complicated City. However, TLC is a government entity, created by, and existing through, current laws. It is supervised by the mayor, who is at some point responsible to the People of this City. It is NOT a private corporation hungry to make money for its shareholders and put its CEO on TV.

For all of the strife caused by the medallion collapse a few years ago, the TLC never directly took owner’s livelihoods away and never truly made any promises that medallions would only rise in value. YES, there was fraud of some sort – and I will leave that to others to sort out – but my point is, if you invested in a medallion and a car, etc., it’s likely the TLC did not seize it from you. Lenders may have seized medallions and other collateral, like vehicles, but not the TLC.

TLC has a robust prosecution unit. It has been around for a long time, and while frustrating to drivers it is rule-oriented and due process for the most part must be followed. There have been lawsuits against TLC and TLC has been forced to be more favorable to drivers. That’s my point in a nutshell. There are rules. There are laws. There are codes to protect drivers and owners. Especially owners.

Let’s examine TNCs like Uber and Lyft. They aren’t accountable to drivers. There may be a union to protect drivers, but it seems to me the industry is poised to make Uber and Lyft MORE powerful, not less so. By prohibiting new vehicles on the road, the TLC will force Uber et al. to stop new drivers from gaining access to the app. Is that fair? The short answer: No.

What is even more unfair, and the main point of my article is this: Owner-drivers who buy vehicles to perform work for Uber may still be randomly cut off from the app without any true due process and without any clear-cut rules! Because of this, a good argument can be made for why yellow cabs right now are the only segment of the industry protected by the TLC Prosecution Unit.

The TLC Prosecution Unit may NOT arbitrarily revoke a hack license! I have spent a large part of my career defending drivers at TLC and OATH, preventing drivers from revocations, suspensions, high fines etc. The point is, as a trained attorney I was allowed to defend these drivers, and most importantly, medallion owners.

Uber does not allow attorneys to defend drivers at hearings. They simply summarily suspend drivers from the app. No rights, no protection. Boom… Gone. Unemployed, just like that. If you buy a Tesla or nice new Suburban to drive for Uber, do they care? Nope. Is the public helped by Uber’s power? I’d argue the answer is: Nope!

Privatizing the TLC’s prosecution power or outsourcing it to Uber is an absolute recipe for disaster. Should the NYPD be privatized? Of course not! Should plain old folks be allowed to write parking tickets? No! This is not the wild west and private business does NOT do everything better than government. We need the TLC, and we need to increase the power of the TLC prosecution unit, etc. so that Uber and Lyft (and others) have no power to ruin lives and regulate NYC taxi services. The law is clear, TLC has the authority to regulate and supervise the industry, and all policy related to for-hire transportation. I don’t see anything in the city charter authorizing Uber to set for-hire vehicle policy for the city’s citizens.

NOW is the time for the industry and public to lobby for TLC to take back its power to regulate its drivers and owners from businesses whose goal is – understandably, to be clear – to make money for their shareholders. Period. The TLC’s goal is to protect NYC citizens and drivers, and especially owners who have a stake in this industry and the city they serve.

We must immediately draft and pass rules authorizing TLC to regulate TNC driver behavior – that is superior to the TNC’s own power not pari passu (equal). If Uber wants to operate in this city, fine – then let the city truly regulate its drivers.

Thank you for reading my article. Until next month, be well.

Article by Michael Spevack

A 1992 graduate of NYU School of Law, Michael Spevack has been a lawyer in good standing in New York State since 1993. He has been helping NYC for-hire vehicle drivers since 1995, when he opened his own law firm. Mr. Spevack can be reached at 212.754.1011; he also welcomes visitors at his office: 1204 44th Avenue Long Island City NY 11101.

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