Hello everyone. As I’m sure you are all aware by now, the NYC TLC held its Public Hearing on its proposed accessibility rules on Thursday, September 28, 2017 at the New York Downtown Marriott, where it was a packed house with standing room only. The TLC changed the venue in anticipation of a massive turnout, not to mention protest activity. For those of you who may not have background on the proposed rule, which was the subject of the public hearing, here are the basics. The TLC proposal calls for 25% of all jobs to be dispatched to accessible vehicles by the year 2021, via a 5% phase-in beginning at 10% in 2018, eventually topping out at 25% by 2021. This rule, if passed as written, would be disastrous to the entire FHV industry as a whole, from black car bases and drivers, luxury bases and drivers, and livery bases and drivers. While they are a part of the black car sector, I feel it is important to note for all and make clear that NYC TNC operators, such as Uber, Lyft, Via, Juno, etc., would also be subject to this new mandate, and its drivers – responsible for the vehicle purchasing. While this would be disastrous for all, it would be especially disastrous for the massive amount of smaller and medium-sized bases who have already been struggling to remain competitive with the TNC emergence and rapid market dominance, but also to the TENS OF THOUSANDS of drivers who would be forced to purchase costly, fuel-inefficient, difficult to maintain accessible vehicles, just to comply with the mandate, plunging the large majority of drivers into financial ruin – even more so once they realize they cannot afford a new compliant vehicle, and are now out of a job.
I think it goes without saying that this issue is of the utmost importance to the entire New York City for-hire vehicle industry. As such, the Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC), along with Uber, Lyft, Via, Carmel, the Livery Base Operators (LBO), the Livery Roundtable (LRT) and the Limo Association of New York (LANY) formed an industry “coalition,” as it has come to be known, to advocate for all of these bases, as well as tens of thousands of drivers. We met with the TLC Commissioner and Chair, Meera Joshi, twice to discuss our concerns with the proposed rule language, each time citing the disastrous consequences this would have, as well as the ripple effects of its implementation; we also delivered testimony at the public hearing as a joint coalition. Additionally, prior to the Public Hearing, we also met with several TLC Commissioners separately, and on multiple occasions to discuss the issues.
Before I get into that, however, I’d like to discuss the proposal our coalition unveiled in our testimony. Here’s the thing – speaking on behalf of the coalition, I want to make sure that it is known that when it comes to the issue of accessibility, the FHV industry is absolutely committed to the disabled community and recognizes the hardships these members of our community face on a daily basis. That being said, we are also committed to coming to an arrangement which addresses the concerns of all – from the disabled to the drivers. In that spirit, let’s get on to what the coalition is proposing.
Our proposal ensures the disabled community receives reliable and timely service in as quickly an implementation time as possible. We have proposed the formation of the “FHV Industry Improvement Fund,” which will serve as a SUSTAINABLE and RELIABLE solution to the accessibility issue. This Fund would be fully funded via the FHV bases, would provide disabled passengers service at very reasonable fare rates approved by the TLC, be available the same hours as non-accessible FHV services and finally, get it all done with an average pick-up time of 15 minutes by the end of 2018 (something that took the TLC several years to accomplish exclusively in Manhattan with only yellow taxis). This would all be made possible through the Fund’s hiring of a central dispatch facility, which would manage all of the accessible ride requests by sending jobs to the 75 largest FHV bases (which will handle 90% of all dispatches), inclusive of TNC bases, which means the central dispatch facility will be able to receive ride requests via the same methods by which non-accessible rides are requested, such as through an app, on the phone, etc., and would be able to dispatch jobs to black cars, livery vehicles and even accessible taxis. A beautiful part of our proposal is that these 75 bases would provide 90% of the service, meaning over 800 other bases would have absolutely nothing to worry about in terms of compliance, so long as they contribute financially. It is also important to note that our coalition is willing and eager to do whatever it takes to make this plan work, and if that means further investment for things such as purchasing additional wheelchair accessible vehicles, we are fully prepared to do so.
One of the most important aspects of this proposal, to me at least, is that it is as transparent as possible, which is why the TLC will have complete oversight over the creation of the Fund, the collection method and its day-to-day operations. The TLC would also approve the initial Board make-up, inclusive of appointments by the Mayor and City Council Speaker. To instill faith in the FHV industry’s ability to accomplish this task, the coalition proposed paying $500,000 if high levels of service are not met by January 1, 2019, and an even higher $1.5 million fine if not met by December 31, 2019. Finally, in line with this goal of being as transparent as possible, the Fund would hire an independent entity to issue an annual report regarding the quality of service actually being provided, as well as a biennial report to be submitted to the TLC on all accessible trips.
Since our coalition was representative of a large majority of the FHV industry, across the various sectors, we were given preferential treatment in terms of our allotted amount of time to delivery testimony, and by far, our coalition received the most questions from the Board of Commissioners than were fielded by any other individual or group testifying, many of which were very technical, which meant answers are not yet readily available. Something my fellow coalition members feel I should have stated more clearly during our testimony is that once there is any further interest expressed in our proposal and it is recognized as a workable framework, we are fully prepared to complete and present all aspects of the plan details within one to two months. Our goal is to meet with as many industry stakeholders as possible, not to mention the TLC, to fine-tune our proposal to offer adequate solutions to any issues which may arise, and ensure all parties involved are treated fairly.
At the hearing, which lasted six hours, a plethora of disability advocates spoke about their countless problems trying to navigate New York City, in particular with Access-A-Ride, and the things in their lives which have been so dramatically impacted as a result of these hardships, which are sometimes insurmountable. Let me make it clear that our proposal is not Access-A-Ride, but completely different and more reliable dispatch service. All our proposal aims to do is provide this group of members of the community with the same timely rides the non-disabled public has come to love and expect, while ensuring the tens of thousands of drivers who have spent over 100 years making our city the place it is, can continue to do so while also keeping their children in college and food on their table. As always, for the latest, make sure to follow the BCAC on social media. Until next month!
Ira J. Goldstein is the Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund, Chief Operating Officer of the Black Car Assistance Corp. (BCAC), and Treasurer of the Coalition of Transportation Associations (COTA).