The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) was strict about its three-minute time limit for speakers, but the April 6 public hearing on “the pay and costs of driving taxis and for-hire vehicles (FHVs)” ran until almost 4:00 p.m., thanks to a massive crowd that was not shy about venting their concerns and telling personal stories. There were a few common complaints and a couple surprises – but rather than go through too many details here, I urge you to read the vast sampling of quotes (edited for space and clarity) on pages 54-59.
It was pretty obvious the TLC knew what was coming. In the commission’s invitation to the industry, the “dramatic growth in the number of taxi and FHV drivers” was prominently mentioned, along with the question of whether “this growth has changed pay and costs for drivers, vehicle owners and business owners.” The TLC got their answer… and much more.
There were quite a few tragic stories from people whose lives had been shattered by plummeting medallion values, a lot of grumbling about too many TLC vehicles cluttering NYC streets and several drivers accused Uber of underpaying them on fares. This is a serious charge, and some of the drivers claimed to have evidence, which they gave to the TLC. It’s a charge that has been heard before in states around the country – and if true, I would like to hope that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will investigate it. Drivers work hard enough without the fear of being cheated on their rightful pay.
The TLC seemed sympathetic – and in fact a little over a week later, announced plans to initiate rulemaking to require tipping options in the FHV industry, in response to a petition from the Independent Drivers Guild, that the TLC had received in February. But these days, it’s hard not to be a little skeptical – especially since the Governor so gleefully passed the 2018 budget, which included authorizing Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), like Uber and Lyft, to operate across New York state, without taking steps to protect the New York City transportation industry, and de- spite the fact that there are several very serious, ongoing lawsuits against Uber.
Starting this July, the floodgates will open for TNCs in New York State, with drivers using their own personal vehicles. New York City, where the company has set up multiple Black Car bases, will be excluded from the statewide law, and locations out- side of NYC can choose to “opt out,” thereby blocking TNCs from operating in their jurisdictions. But Uber has a habit of ignoring these types of laws, or at least looking the other way if their drivers choose to break them.
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is supposed to oversee TNCs in the State – and the agency is charged with deciding on appropriate vehicle markings and the level of background checks that will be required before TNCs hit the streets – but they will certainly have their hands full.
Like many people, my biggest concern is the fact that these vehicles will be operating with “straight plates,” and are allowed to drop off clients in New York City. At the TLC’s April hearing, quite a few speakers railed against a lack of enforcement against illegal pickups – and once these straight plate cars enter the city, it will create a nightmare for enforcement officers already clearly struggling to stop this all-too-com- mon practice.
A number of counties immediately surrounding NYC, which currently have their own TLCs, are decidedly unhappy about the fact that they were not granted the right to regulate their own streets regarding TNCs (again, this will be the responsibility of the DMV). Their concern is one that has been heard around the world: that there needs to be a level of parity between TNCs and traditional transportation companies, since they effectively do the same job.
On a positive note, the New York Black Car Fund was preserved as part of the state budget, and the traditional industry will remain in control of the board. Two more board members will be added, one of which will be a TNC representative, appointed by the Governor. The Black Car Fund will be submitting a report to the state 10 months after TNCs begin operating statewide, regarding workers’ compensation, helping to ensure the financial stability of the Fund and making sure that drivers are properly protected. A wheelchair accessible taskforce will also present a report to the Governor regarding TNCs at some point in the near future.
Clearly, a lot is happening quickly, so as always, we urge you to “like” Black Car News on Facebook for up to the minute news.
We would like to apologize for a small error in last month’s “Driver’s Seat,” by Doug Schifter, titled “An Open Letter to the TLC,” on page 42. In the section titled, Toll Rip-off, the sentence “Pennsylvania tolls are keyed to the time of day, which makes it impossible to track an accurate toll on vouchers” should read “Port Authority tolls are keyed to the time of day, which makes it impossible to track an accurate toll on vouchers.”