Hello everyone, and welcome to 2019! I trust that you all had a safe and enjoyable New Year and holiday season thus far, surrounded by your friends and loved ones – and good food, or course! I know that the holidays mean many different things to different people, but I know that for me, the holidays are a time to appreciate those you have in your life. I’ve said it in my column before and I will say it again – at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is family and friends; never take them for granted. I know much went on throughout 2018 – things which were not just petrifying in terms of their ability to destroy our Industry, but were also highly complex and a part of the public’s general interest, making resolution far more difficult. Especially following a tragic string of Driver suicides, totaling an unacceptable 8. 

Among the many issues were Driver finances, the FHV license moratorium, FHV accessibility, as well as the creation of a new category, High-Volume For-Hire Service (HVFHS), comprised of the app companies which complete 10,000 dispatches or more per day. The most contentious issue, however, is the implementation of Congestion Pricing in Manhattan’s congestion zone – defined as anywhere within the borough beneath 96th Street – regardless of whether or not a ride begins or terminates in the congestion zone – if the zone has been touched in any way during the trip, the congestion pricing surcharge is mandated. Like I said – contentious. I am sure you have read much about congestion pricing in my past few columns. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started. 

First, let’s discuss the headliner of this column – the recent TRO (temporary restraining order) granted on the collection of congestion pricing surcharges, effectively temporarily blocking its implementation. On December 20, 2018, New York State Supreme Court Judge, Justice Martin Shulman, issued the TRO, following the filing of an Article 78 petition by a segment of the Taxi Industry, comprised of various management companies and Drivers. The issued TRO applies to the collection of congestion pricing surcharges across all Industry sectors. What this means for the Industry is that the looming January 1, 2019 implementation date, which will already have come to pass by the time you read this column, is no longer the date to go on. There is a hearing scheduled on this matter – again, which has already most likely taken place by the time you read this. The hearing was originally set to take place on January 3rd, but on December 27th, the parties filed for a Stipulation and Order of Adjournment, re-scheduling the hearing for January 10th. The TRO remains in place until the conclusion of the hearing. Next steps on this matter can only be determined following the conclusion of the January 10th hearing. The BCAC will be (or was, already) at the January 10th hearing, and will be doing everything deemed necessary in order to protect the interests of the Black Car Industry, and ensure that all Industries are treated equitably, and fairly. 

More on the local news front, it’s time to delve in to the realm of City Council bills; such as Introduction 1302 put forward by Council Member and Committee on For-Hire Vehicles Chair, Ruben Diaz, Sr. Int. 1302 would require from the TLC to “….establish a minimum base rate that must be charged for a trip dispatched by any high-volume for-hire service that begins, ends, or passes through the congestion zone. The minimum base rate must be no less than the initial unit charge for a taxi and any required taxes, fees or surcharges.” The goal of this legislation is to serve as a sort of protection for the Taxi Industry, from the likes of Uber and Lyft, artificially lowering their rates within the congestion zone in order to level the playing field. If this bill were to pass, it would mandate that the minimum base fare in any app-based ride would be $5.80 – pool vehicles would need extra attention when it comes to determining what a minimum base fare would look like for those. If approved, the law could go into effect in January; meaning the TLC would be mandated to look into the issue and make recommendations – not to mention, complete annual reviews to see if the desired intent is still in play. We will closely be monitoring this and I will report back in my next column. 

Now for a quick update on things across the pond – a rather large one. Over in London, England, the jurisdiction has enjoyed the distinction of being one of the few international markets where congestion pricing is in effect, and has been for quite some time – since 2003. However, up until now, the fee had only applied to private vehicles, such as commuters and pleasure travelers; London’s iconic black cabs have been exempt from coughing up the surcharge. Recently, however, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL (Transport for London) Regulators have announced that come April, Uber and other private for-hire taxi Operators in London will be stripped of their exemptions, and be required to contribute – all while the black cabs retain their exemption. Mayor Khan’s stated reasons mainly pertain to his mission of improving the city’s air quality, while TfL Regulators have pointed to recent federal funding cuts. 

London was not shy in making some news this past month, with a long-anticipated court ruling being handed down, potentially setting the stage for ripple effects worldwide. Back in 2016, Uber Drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam filed suit against Uber in the U.K.’s employment tribunals, accusing the company of unfairly treating them as self-employed (independent contractors). With the decision set to be reviewed and voted on by the U.K. Supreme Court, Uber could be on the hook to provide Drivers with benefits such as holiday pay and a guaranteed minimum wage should the court move to uphold the tribunal’s decision. Uber, which is facing similar challenges in jurisdictions all over the world, including in New York, continues to stand by its claim of not employing any Drivers, since they operate as independent contractors and have the freedom to make their own schedules, among other factors. Uber will be permitted to appeal the decision of the U.K. Supreme Court, and it has stated that it does, indeed, plan to do so should the decision not go the way they would like. I will continue to track this situation, as well as similar ones in ours and other jurisdictions, and report back.  

On to some non-legislative news; NYC TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi was recently nominated, along with nine others, as one of Crain’s New York Business’ Top Ten Newsmakers of the Year. There is no denying the Commissioner’s impact on our Industry. Voting was open to the public on the top newsmaker of the year, and while Commissioner Joshi did not snag the top spot, she ranked second – quite the statement; especially considering the dais of her fellow nominees who placed after her, such as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, MTA President Andy Byford, and Congress Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to serve as a Member of Congress. 

As a final bit of news, or rather an update, the BCAC has officially chosen Uber as its Preferred Accessible Vehicle Dispatcher (AVD) for purposes of Bases to contract with to satisfy the mandated accessible dispatch provisions, passed by the TLC Board of Commissioners, and approved in court. For more information on the specifics, please contact Uber representatives Denis O’Flynn O’Brien at 646-665-7536 or denis@uber.com, or Joel Staley at the same phone number, or via e-mail at joels@uber.com. 

Well, that seems to be it for me this month. As the last column I am writing in 2018, though you’re reading it now in 2019, I feel the need to reflect for just a moment on the year our Industry has had. I’ve been quoted countless times, during countless situations, as saying “…there has never been a more crucial moment in our Industry history to unite….” I feel like I may have used that phrase out of turn prior to 2018 – 2018 was, by far, the most crucial year in recent history for our Industry to have come together and have its voice heard. And it did. From congestion pricing, to FHV accessibility, to the FHV license moratorium, to Driver income, to the establishment of a new City Council Committee with oversight of our Industry, not to mention the carving-out of app-based companies, now rolled into their own, new category, and a flurry of sporadic bill introductions, each requiring in-depth analysis. Meanwhile, we came together, and we are still here. As the Executive Director of The Black Car Fund, I am proud to say that in 2018, The Fund was able to launch multiple new and revolutionary benefits for covered Drivers, and even their families, at absolutely no cost to them – completely funded by passengers, without having to raise the passenger surcharge at all. 

Just to name a few, our new BCF Vision Benefit entitles BCF-covered Drivers to a free comprehensive eye exam every year, as well as a free pair of prescription glasses (or 6-month supply of contact lenses) – and with our Mobile Eye Care Center which can conduct exams on the spot anywhere, Drivers can always go at a time convenient for them! Another benefit I am abundantly proud of is our new Telemedicine benefit, which is also actually extended to the family members of BCF-covered Drivers! The Telemedicine benefit allows you to use your mobile device to consult with a licensed physician via phone call or video chat, where they can conduct initial diagnoses and follow-ups, as well as electronically transmit prescriptions to any pharmacy a Driver chooses, so long as they are not controlled substances. Driver’s families can use this benefit, as well, and the visits are completely free of charge – Drivers are only expected to pay for their prescriptions, should any be required.  

2018 was also a year of profound loss for our Industry, with a total of 8 Drivers losing their lives to suicide – driven by the crumbling state of their personal affairs, as a direct result of the crumbling state of our Industry, which had once provided them comfortable earnings and a sense of success and security. It goes without saying that the loss of life sustained resulted in rapid legislative efforts and results, however, it does not make up for the fact that situations have gotten to the dire point at which they have been as of late. However, as I write this today, due to TLC rulemaking as well, High-Volume For-Hire Service Drivers now have a minimum wage, and all Black Car Drivers are receiving more benefits and resources than at any other time in the history of our Industry. 

I commit to all within our Industry that I, in my capacity as an Industry stakeholder, have always and will always continue to do what I truly believe is in the best interests of Drivers. I offer my heartfelt condolences to the friends and families of those who have been lost, and I look forward to a new year of working towards continued change within our Industry, and an improvement in situations for all. 

As always, don’t forget to follow both the BCAC and The Black Car Fund on social media! Until next month.

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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