As I sit here typing this, I can nearly see my breath sitting close to my kitchen window. I remember just a few years ago, it tended to be much warmer in the months leading up to December. Now, it seems as if some kind of dramatic shift has taken place – somewhat like the shift our Industry experienced – one leading us into colder times.

I don’t enjoy being as ominous as I just sounded, but when I have to report on the news I’m about to report on, as often as I do, sometimes it just can’t be helped. Just a few weeks ago, right in the middle of the month, the Industry lost yet another Driver to suicide, marking the 8th suicide to plague our Industry recently. Roy Kim, a 58-year old Yellow taxi Driver living in Bayside, Queens took his own life following the worsening of his financial state due to his recent 2017 purchase of a medallion.

Reportedly over $500,000 in debt from the deal, those who knew Mr. Kim say he was earning money for some time as a Driver, but that as the market worsened, his earnings steeply decreased and initiated his financial troubles. My prayers and thoughts are with Mr. Kim’s family and friends, as they remain for every other family who has lost someone from our Industry to suicide. The Black Car Fund refuses to stand by any longer while such tragedies continue to take place. As such, The Black Car Fund is funding a Mental Health and Wellness Program, as well as financial and job skills, all to be held at a new facility. As if we didn’t know before, the urgency for such a resource is extreme, and within the next few months, I will release more details on the initiative, being done in conjunction with IDG Benefits Fund.

While we’re on the topic of benefits designed just to help Drivers, I’d like to talk about an incredibly successful event held in November at Vital Transportation with the BCF Mobile Eye Care Center – otherwise known as the BCF Vision Van. As most of you have heard by now, I’m sure, we recently released the newest free benefit offerings to covered Drivers – vision coverage and telemedicine benefits (which extends to family members too, but I’ll get into that later). Funded by The Black Car Fund, administered by the IDG Benefits Fund, and with vision services completed by General Vision Services (GVS), eligible Drivers are entitled to a comprehensive vision check, including the checking of overall retina health, as well as a free pair of prescription glasses (or six-month supply of contact lenses) every year!

While Drivers are free to take full advantage of this benefit at ANY GVS location, the BCF Vision Van has been making the rounds, parking itself where there are high concentrations of Drivers, so it can be fully utilized. Recent TLPA Driver of the Year, Grigory Eskin of Vital Transportation was thrilled to have his eye health checked, as well as pick from a variety of over 200 different frames – all on the actual van, itself. While the van will be hitting the streets every week, we are calling on Base owners to reach out should they wish to schedule a visit to their Base from the BCF Vision Van. If you would like to, feel free to email Jason Fromberg at jfromberg@nybcf.org.

While I have been busy overseeing the highly-anticipated new benefit roll-out, time stands still for no man, and two For-Hire Vehicle Committee hearings took place last month. One on the 13th, where a total of six bills were voted on and passed out of Committee and await final Mayoral approval, and then another on the 19th to discuss the upcoming implementation, in the form of TLC rule making, of congestion pricing.

Starting first with the hearing on the 13th: while six bills were voted out of Committee, only two of them are of any sort of relevance. Int. 1081-A calls for the establishment of Driver Assistance Centers by the TLC, and Int. 1068-A calls on the TLC, also, to provide Drivers with specific financial education regarding the leasing and financing of taxicabs and For-Hire Vehicles. The other four bills voted on and passed, Introductions 1096-A on the banning of the practice of auto-deduction of payments from High-Volume For-Hire Vehicle (HVFHV) Drivers, 304-A on the establishment of a medallion debt task force, 1062-A on the risk of loss of payments for HVFHV, and finally, 1079 requiring the TLC to establish an Office of Inclusion within the agency. Like I said, only the first two discussed were of relevance to us, and I will continue to monitor and report back any updates, should there be any.

At the hearing on the 19th, up for public discussion was the upcoming codification by way of TLC rule making regarding the congestion pricing provisions recently mandated by passed New York state law. Several taxi Industry members testified, and all of the testimony was centered around mainly individuals retained by or affiliated with a particular taxi industry-owned technology company going about a remarkably distasteful push, headed up by said Yellow taxi stakeholder turned tech entrepreneur, to force their product – an in-vehicle computer system of some sort – into Black Cars. The BCAC will not be allowing this to take place and will be taking swift and meaningful actions to eliminate any such mandate as the appropriate time comes; though, we have already commented publicly that we are in strong opposition. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi testified before the Committee, as well; in her testimony, citing the upcoming November 28th TLC hearing where the same topic, congestion pricing rule implementation, is scheduled for discussion (by the time you read this, the hearing on the 28th will have already taken place.)

In Commissioner Joshi’s testimony, she reiterated the specific provisions outlined within the state’s passed mandate, such as what defines the congestion surcharge zone, as well as the associated per-ride (and rider) surcharges, the amounts of which vary between sectors – from $0.75 per shared ride passenger, $2.50 per Yellow taxi trip, and $2.75 per trip in FHVs, which includes Black Cars, Luxury Limousines, High-Volume For-Hire Vehicles, Liveries and Green cabs. With it the sole responsibility for remitting the collected congestion surcharges to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance falling solely on medallion owners and FHV Bases, the state mandate required local regulators, the TLC, to administer the congestion surcharge the Commissioner pointed out to the Committee in her testimony, as well.

Discussing the upcoming November 28th hearing, Commissioner Joshi stated that it is to be held on the proposed congestion pricing rules, which broadly consist of the following provisions: requiring all taximeters and in-taxi technology systems to automatically apply the appropriate congestion surcharge and report the details of each trip which triggers the application of the surcharge. Requiring that all FHV Bases do the same, meaning report to the TLC whether or not a trip entered through a congestion surcharge zone at any point during the trip. HVFHS operators are required, under the same proposed rules, to utilize in-vehicle GPS devices (which, for HVFHSs are smartphones) to collect trip information regarding the application of the surcharge. Again, this hearing will have come and gone by the time you are reading this, but as of today, I anticipate nothing unexpected happening at the hearing. I will report back in my next column!

While still on the expansive topic of legislation and rulemaking, it is worth mentioning that a new bill, Int. 1237 put forward by Council Members Rodriguez and Cabrera, which is calling for new TLC rulemaking and Board vote. The bill aims to require all owners, Drivers and Bases of TLC-licensed vehicles cooperate with police investigations by allowing them have access to the Licensee’s business records.

Finally, I close out with news of The Black Car Fund. Earlier in November, key leadership from The Black Car Fund attended the 2018 SOMOS Conference – an annual conference attended by hundreds of New York elected officials, in particular, from the state Senate and Assembly, as well as the Governor’s office. We were able to very successfully spread the merits of The Black Car Fund model, and the possibility of down the line, being able to expand our current benefit offerings. I believe The Black Car Fund’s attendance at SOMOS could not have come at a better time in the Industry, as urgent action is needed on so many different issues.

But of course, I could not sign-off before wishing all of you a very happy, safe and fulfilling holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Being our business is as hectic as it is, it is so crucial to take time like holidays to unplug (as best you can,) and fully be able to appreciate your loved ones. Also, it’s COLD! And will undoubtedly bring with it snowy weather, so please drive carefully! Protect yourselves, our children, and the rest of our communities! Until next month!

 

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Article by Ira Goldstein

Ira Goldstein is Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund, Chief Operating Officer of the Black Car Assistance Corporation and Treasurer of the Coalition of Transportation Associations.

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