Hello everyone, and welcome to 2019! So far, the new year has brought us nothing but freezing cold temperatures, partnered by freezing rain – in other words, nothing but the absolute worst driving conditions. That being said, I hope everyone has been driving safely given the conditions of late.
The new year has already been a busy and eventful one, with updates on most Industry current events: the Article 78 court case on congestion pricing and the further extension of the resulting TRO (temporary restraining order), permission being granted for MinuteMen, a long-time BCAC Member to intervene in the case, meaning the BCAC will be represented at the table should there be any talks of a potential settlement, the resignation of current NYC TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recent 2019 State of the State and Budget Address where he nearly “flipped the script” on plans on implementation of congestion pricing (causing many to raise their eyebrows), the beginning of compliance with the accessibility mandate via contracting with an AVD (Accessible Vehicle Dispatcher), the cancellation of the 15-month L train tunnel closure and more. Clearly, there’s a lot for us all to be remaining on top of as we head further into the new year! Let’s dive in.
First, let’s cover the various updates on congestion pricing since I wrote you all last. On January 15, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered his combined State of the State and Budget Address from up in Albany, where he laid out his legislative priorities for 2019. Out of a plethora of issues, two are of direct interest to our industry. First, regarding congestion pricing: Governor Cuomo, citing the extreme need to raise funds for MTA infrastructure improvement projects, discussed a completely new congestion pricing plan. Under the Governor’s proposal, a toll would be imposed upon vehicles entering Manhattan below 60th Street – vehicles traveling either northbound or southbound on the FDR Drive would NOT be charged a toll.
The Governor stated that a total of $15 billion is expected to be brought in by this program, however, specified that this program would not begin until the year 2021, even if the program was approved by the legislature this year. The Governor stated that it is expected that the congestion pricing tolls will not bring in enough funds for the necessary MTA improvements, and therefore, discussed a 50/50 split in funding between New York City and New York State, should that actually wind up being the case. It is important to note, however, that this DOES NOT IN ANY WAY effect the court case, and the implementation of congestion pricing on FHVs and taxis.
The second issue discussed by the Governor of interest to our industry is the proposed plan to completely ban the registration of re-manufactured limousines, therefore prohibiting their operation in the State of New York. This is in direct response to several deadly crashes involving such vehicles, in Suffolk County in 2015, and most recently, in October of 2018 in Schoharie County, New York, claiming the lives of 20. As more information and analysis of the Governor’s proposals surfaces, we will be updating you appropriately.
Back to congestion pricing: As you should recall, I’ve reported that following the filing of an Article 78 petition by a segment of the taxi industry, comprised of various management companies and drivers, a TRO was issued on December 20th, temporarily blocking the collection of Congestion Pricing Surcharge fees. Over the past few weeks, much has happened – MinuteMen, a long-time and highly-valued BCAC Member, was granted permission by the courts to intervene in the case. Now, should there be talks of a settlement, the BCAC, and therefore the unified voice of our Industry, will be represented at the table, meaning our best interests will be represented. Not just that, but the TRO, originally issued on December 20, 2018, has been extended to January 31, allowing for more time for both sides to analyze and bring forward additional arguments.
Moving on to our next item: With the new year came the requirement for FHV bases to comply with the accessible dispatch mandates – either by choosing a licensed dispatch company or adhering to the trip percentage mandate, meaning bases choosing that path are required to dispatch at least 5% of their ride requests to WAVs (wheelchair accessible vehicles), increasing to 25% over the course of the next five years. As I reported in my January column, the BCAC had made the choice to designate Uber as its preferred AVD (Accessible Vehicle Dispatcher). The BCAC strongly encouraged Members to contract with Uber as their AVD due to the fact that, out of the few vendor choices approved by the TLC, Uber was the one which came forward with the best terms for BCAC Members, which at this time in the Industry, is what matters most. As we see how this progresses now that everything is in place and underway, I will be reporting back updates appropriately.
Moving on to some news regarding NYC TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi. Towards the beginning of January, it was announced that Commissioner Meera Joshi will be stepping down as Commissioner and Chair of the agency come the end of March. With just two months left, Commissioner Joshi is being praised for her tenure as Commissioner. She has undoubtedly served during the most historic period our Industry has ever experienced – with more changes having occurred during her tenure than any other Commissioner that comes to mind. Her departure, without a doubt, comes as a massive loss to our Industry. On a personal note – you could not have asked for a more honest or accessible Commissioner than Commissioner Joshi. Even when Commissioner Joshi and the BCAC differed in terms of policy matters, it was never a matter of politics for her, but rather, integrity – she always did what she felt was right, best for the Industry. I wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.
Finally, we are all well aware that the L train subway tunnel, terribly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, was set to be closed for a period of 15 months to allow for badly-needed infrastructure repairs. As the L train tunnel issue has progressed, both the MTA and Governor had been facing severe public backlash over the closure, with the line serving as a lifeline (no pun intended) to those living in the increasingly popular set of Northern Brooklyn neighborhoods. On January 3, Governor Cuomo announced that the tunnel would, in fact, remain open while the crucial repairs are made.
As of now, the work is slated to be completed during the weekends and evenings, and the repairs are still expected to take between 15 and 20 months to complete. Behind this about face is an apparent realization that far less equipment and demolition will be needed. The MTA is predicting that L trains should be able to provide service about every 15 or 20 minutes, which, believe it or not, is actually not worse than the statistics for the line show today! While commuters are thrilled by this change in plan, dockless scooter and bicycle companies which were looking to take advantage of the tunnel closure must be pretty disappointed. We shall see how this plays out in the end.
That seems to be it for me this month. There’s certainly enough going on to stay abreast of over the next month, and I look forward to reporting back to you next month on it all. Until next time!