Hello to all. Spring has been colder and rainier than most would like, but at least we can take comfort knowing that Summer is right around the corner. A lot happened in May, and there are some exciting announcements I’m looking forward to telling you about, as well as some new concerns that the industry will need to keep its eye on. Let me jump right into it…

The big news on everyone’s mind is surely Uber’s initial public offering. After much speculation, Uber finally went public at $45 per share, giving them a market valuation of about $82 billion. This was towards the lower end of the range that experts had forecast, with some expecting a valuation as high as $100 billion. The biggest disappointment, however, came after the first day of trading ended with Uber down 7.2%. This represented a loss of $617 million in value, resulting in the biggest first-day dollar loss for an IPO in stock market history.

Entering its second week of trading, Uber’s stock has been making a slow climb back towards $45 per share, after falling to a low of $37.10. It remains to be seen how the stock will perform in the long run because it is far too early to make confident predictions.

This past month, The Black Car Fund announced the official launch of a new mental health and wellness program with our partners in the Independent Drivers Guild. It’s well known that depression, stress and anxiety disproportionately affect drivers in our industry. The epidemic of for-hire vehicle driver suicides across the city was something that needed to be addressed, and we believe that this one-of-a-kind program will not just improve lives – but also save them.

At the press conference announcing the launch, we were joined by Public Advocate Jumaane Williams and Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who both spoke glowingly of the program. Council Member Rodriguez, Chair of the Committee on Transportation, spoke even further about this program at his Committee’s Executive Budget hearing when he asked the TLC to learn from our model and consider ways that it could be expanded upon. You can read the full press release about this program at our website at http://www.nybcf.org/industry-press-releases

The most important goal is to destigmatize mental health care and make drivers aware of the availability of these new services. No one should ever feel ashamed to ask for help.

Our new program will address both crisis prevention and intervention. Prevention starts with weekly discussion circles that will help drivers connect with other drivers to raise concerns, share advice and learn new skills to deal with the stresses of the job. Intervention is addressed by providing immediate counseling and therapy sessions in an individual, group and family setting with a licensed counselor. Case management support will also be provided by social workers to assist drivers in obtaining SNAP benefits, housing assistance and disability support. This, combined with an expansion of the Guild’s wellness curriculum and classes, will help provide a supportive boost to drivers’ quality of life and overall wellness.

The new classes include financial health, mental health, mindfulness, career skills and language proficiency. We encourage you to learn more about the program by visiting:  https://drivingguild.org/wellness/.

Speaking of new programs, The Black Car Fund is also gearing to launching Safety Advancement for Excellence in Driving (S.A.F.E. iD). This program will use the technology of telematics to connect drivers with The Black Car Fund and help them take steps towards becoming a safer driver. Those who participate in our pilot program will have the ability to see an analysis of their driving, receive tips on the areas they can improve upon, participate in fun program challenges, earn rewards and prizes for their accomplishments, receive savings from program partners, and even possibly become eligible for up to a 10% discount on their auto liability insurance.

More information about the program will come next month, but in the meantime please use the following link to pre-register, receive information and be notified when it launches:http://bit.ly/2PSnCGv. Also, please help to spread the word to your fellow drivers!

I will now turn to some legislative issues that need to be followed closely. In mid-May, the New York State Senate passed a bill sponsored by State Senator David Carlucci that will require all passengers over the age of 16 to wear seat belts in cars, regardless of where they are sitting. While taxis, limousines and buses would be exempt from this law within New York City, the classification of FHVs outside of the City would make them not exempt. That means FHVs operating outside of NYC, or who enter the City without TLC plates, would be required to have their passengers wear seat belts.

The bill has gone to the State Assembly where it is also expected to pass. It will then go to Governor Cuomo’s desk to be signed into law. This law will be onerous to FHV drivers but another Senate bill, introduced by Senator Holyman, would be even worse. It would remove any exemption and require the use of seat belts for all passengers for all taxis and FHVs throughout NYC as well. It is currently sitting in the State Senate’s Cities Committee and we will monitor its progress.

Another attack on the black car industry is coming in the form of a bill introduced to the State Assembly that will require all FHVs with a seating capacity of six or less to install rear-facing video cameras. These cameras would need to record any operator or passenger who enters the car and would need to be able to store at least the last 60 hours of operation. These recordings would also have to be able to be transmitted or provided to local law enforcement and the local regulatory authority.

The rest of the industry already has this requirement, so it’s clear that this bill is targeting black cars in particular. This is another bill that will stay on our radar.

For the sake of ending on a positive note, I wanted to let you know that we are working to expand the number of locations throughout the entire State where drivers can take advantage of the vision benefits we provide. There are now over 30 provider locations throughout upstate New York! As always, you can find a convenient location near you at https://generalvision.com/appointments/or by calling General Vision Services at 646.453.2965.

Until next time!

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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