Well, the ghoulish month of October is finally behind us, but the cold it quickly ushered in is set to hang around for what I’m sure we can all tell will be a very harsh winter. Before I dive right into the importance of winterizing your vehicle, like I do as the weather begins to turn every year, there is a fair amount of Industry news to report on – and with Thanksgiving just around the corner, a lot to be grateful for.

I’ll let the rest of the topics introduce themselves in my column this month, and instead, dedicate this opening section to perhaps two of the most key pieces of news to come from this column. First, our Industry was dealt another excruciating blow this month, learning of the recent suicide of Black Car Driver, Fausto Luna. Citing mounting financial concerns, this marks the 7th NYC Driver to take their own life, citing financial troubles. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Luna’s loved ones. Second, this past month, the Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC) embarked on a new chapter of leadership, with the swearing-in of a new President: Diana Clemente.

Many of you probably remember that this is not Diana’s first time serving as President of the BCAC – it is, in fact, her second time holding the top post. Since her time serving as past-President of the BCAC, Diana has remained a long-time active member of the group, and has gathered priceless Industry experience, which is sure to benefit BCAC Members in ways that they may never have thought about. As she assumes the position once again, she does so while making it clear that one of her top priorities is bringing in new Members, as the challenges the BCAC face continually become far more complex, and call for the inclusion of new voices with unique experiences.

Recently stepping down as BCAC President, Berj Haroutunian said, “As the Industry landscape continues to change rapidly, and the challenges we face grow increasingly complex and frequent, it is of the utmost importance that the Industry come together and actively participate in protective efforts. With a refreshed approach to management of the BCAC, Diana Clemente may very well be the right person to accomplish this task.”

As the Executive Director of the BCAC, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize the years of dedicated service to our Industry by Berj Haroutunian, who held the BCAC President post for years, at a time in our Industry when simply keeping the ship straight was a heavy task. I would also like to recognize our new President, Diana Clemente, similarly, for taking this most-demanding position at such a time for the Industry which has never been more complicated. I look forward to working with her moving forward!

Now, on to my first update: the October 3rd NYC TLC Commission Hearing. The TLC called for the meeting to be held in the Auditorium of the National Museum of the American Indian, as the agency was expecting a larger-than-typical turnout. Well, the turnout was as expected – however, what wasn’t expected was the issue encountered with venue security. As if the hearing was not set to be complicated enough, with the proposed Driver Earnings rules up for commentary, the agency was forced to upend their meeting and find a new location within a matter of an hour… which they did (their Beaver Street offices).

Nevertheless, onto the content of the hearing. A large majority of the massive turnout I speak of was due to the organization efforts of the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG). Donning matching red t-shirts, well over 100 IDG Drivers were in attendance, and nearly all were set to testify. As you can only imagine, the testimony quickly drifted away from exclusively being on the proposed Driver Income rules, and more of an open forum to discuss the general frustrations and concerns with the issues related to Driver finances.

Many speaking testified in support of the proposed rules, however, it was not without opposition, with others also testifying that the proposed rulemaking doesn’t address the issue properly. Beyond that, some testified that they would actually worsen the state of the Industry – Uber and Lyft, for example, testifying that such regulations would hurt consumers in the outer boroughs, since it is their conclusion that drivers will congregate in busy business corridors of Manhattan in an effort to chase more and more elusive profits.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), on the other hand, was in full support of the proposed rules, but went even further, claiming that the TLC-estimated $15 per hour “minimum wage” was more realistically $11, after taking into account operating expenses, which NYTWA believes the TLC has underestimated.

While the issue of Driver finances is by no means unimportant, the proposed rules would widely impact High-Volume For-Hire companies more so than traditional Black Car and Luxury Limousine bases.

Another item up for action at the October 3rd hearing, however, was the long-anticipated vote by the TLC Board of Commissioners regarding the settlement reached in federal court between the FHV Industry Coalition and the agency. The Board of Commissioners voted to approve the terms of the settlement, thus ending a seemingly endless battle to protect our Industry. While we might be able to enjoy a sweet sigh of relief for a moment, keep in mind that now having passed, implementation and enforcement of the FHV wheelchair accessibility mandates are just around the corner in January 2019  – regardless of whether a base chooses to comply with the mandates via contracting with a TLC-approved Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle Dispatcher (WAVD) to farm out accessible rides to, or actually dispatching 25% of all requested rides to an accessible vehicle, whether or not one was requested, to be reached via 5% annual intervals.

The BCAC is currently evaluating the options for WAVD contracting on behalf of our Members, soon making an official recommendation to our Members on which to enter into agreement with, should they choose to comply via that route. Base owners need to make sure that when selecting a WAVD, they consider all aspects to make sure they are choosing the right provider.

Keep in mind: Failure to comply with the mandate carries severe penalties, like the revocation of licensure. With so much on the line for us all, it’s crucial the utmost due diligence is exercised here, as with everything. As we get closer to the January 2019 implementation, I am sure you will find more information in my following few columns. The BCAC recently released an updated report on the full overview of the new rules to all Members – just yet another key benefit of Membership!

It seems like every column I write, I’m reporting on yet another conference where I was lucky enough to speak, most often, on the universal applicability of The Black Car Fund passenger surcharge model of providing Independent Contractors with portable benefits. Most recently, I was honored to have organized a panel discussion to take place at the 104th International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) Conference – a well-attended conference, mainly by regulatory and business leaders in the workplace injury insurance Industry.

Similar to panels which I’ve either organized or sat on in the past, “The NY Black Car Fund – An Innovative Compensation Solution for a Rapidly Evolving ‘Gig Economy World’” explained the historical context of The Black Car Fund, as well as the ways by which our simple yet innovative business model can be applied to any number of Industries, so long as there is an auditable revenue stream. Moderated by former NYC TLC Commissioner Mathew W. Daus, who now chairs the Transportation Practice at Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf, LLP, I was joined on the panel by James Conigliaro, Jr., Founder of the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG), and Josh Gold, Uber’s Policy and Communications Officer. The panel discussion went wonderfully, and I am thrilled to have spread the message about The Black Car Fund model.

With attendees representing 33 international and domestic jurisdictions, the value of such a forward-thinking model are sure to be applicable to quite a few, as the expansion of the “Gig Economy” seems to be completely un-phased by the borders carving our jurisdictions. As always, I look forward to continuing to make sure our model gets the attention it deserves, and I can’t thank the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) enough for seeing the crucial potential applications it has. I look forward to working further with them in the future.

Right now, as I write this, I am for the first time reviewing the recently-released proposed congestion surcharge rules for Taxicab and For-Hire trips, with a Notice of Public Hearing put out by the TLC calling for a November 28, 2018 hearing. Very preliminarily, since further analysis on the proposed rules will only be complete after this has already gone to print, they seem to be pretty straight forward.

Here are some of the key points of the proposed rules: The assessment of congestion surcharges will being January 1, 2019, and the surcharge amounts vary by category – $2.50 on Yellow taxi rides, $2.75 on all For-Hire Vehicles, and $0.75 on “Shared Rides,” defined in the proposed rule language as “a trip that a passenger requests with the understanding that it may be shared with other passengers who are independently charged (i) a predetermined amount per ride, or (ii) an amount that is proportionate to the transportation they receive.” Also defined is the Congestion Surcharge Zone: anywhere within the borough of Manhattan below 96th Street. It specifies that Base Owners are required to bill and collect the congestion surcharge on every single trip dispatched from their Base, as well as the caveat that trips administered on behalf of or by the MTA are exempt from the surcharge. The TLC put forward $0.75 per passenger, per trip for Shared Rides, due to be charged and collected in that amount, even if the passenger is the sole rider.

Finally, and again preliminarily, there seem to be several circumstances which would deem the charging and collection of the surcharge unnecessary. For Shared Rides, the surcharge only applies if the trip passed through the Congestion Surcharge Zone at any point of the trip, and ended in NYS. On Flat Rate fares, the surcharge applies following the same rule as Shared Rides. On Street Hail Livery (SHL) trips, the surcharge applies if the trip passes through the Congestion Surcharge Zone at any point of the trip and concluded outside of NYS, however, owners are responsible for making sure taximeter units are updated to reflect the new rates, inclusive of what would be then-approved surcharges.

A lot still remains to be seen, and with the public hearing not yet held, there is still some time for the proposals to be amended. To read the full language of the proposed rule, visit: http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/downloads/pdf/proposed_congestion_surcharge_for_taxicab_and_fhv_trips.pdf. Otherwise, I will make sure to provide any updates in my next column.

I believe that does it for me this month. To make sure you are slated to hear the latest Industry news as it happens, make sure to follow The Black Car Fund and BCAC on social media. Until next month!


Article by Ira Goldstein

Ira J. Goldstein is the Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund and Advisor to the Black Car Assistance Corp. (BCAC).

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