Between the thinning out of work due to the staggeringly high TNC numbers in the city and the recent heavy investments into operation improvements just to stay afloat, it is safe to say it is becoming harder and harder by the day, it would seem, to stay alive in our market. As if things were not hard enough, as most of you should be well aware of by now, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) dumped a set of proposed rules on our industry a few months back relating to accessible vehicles. What it proposes is that 25% of all ride requests a base receives must be dispatched to accessible vehicles, regardless of whether or not the customer requested an accessible vehicle, by the year 2021. The 25% figure would be reached via phase-in, with a 10% requirement come 2018, 15% by 2019, 20% by 2020 and finally we arrive at 25% in 2021. For bases which fail to meet those percentages in that respective year, financial penalties are handed down, relative to the number by which they missed the mandated percentage amount for that year.
To be clear: While the proposed rules do not mandate each base to have 25% of its fleet comprised of accessible vehicles, what is clear to all is that the purchasing of additional accessible vehicles would be needed in order to meet the mandated percentages. These vehicles are costly to purchase, costly to maintain, as well as costly to operate. They break down at a faster rate than non-accessible vehicles, their parts are more expensive to replace, and due to the added weight, are highly fuel-inefficient. This TLC proposal would effectively force a massive amount of our local bases to close. These are bases that have already long been suffering from the change in market, and this rule being implemented would truly be the final nail in their coffin.
The BCAC, in conjunction with Uber, Lyft, Via, the Limo Association of New York (LANY), Livery Base Owners (LBO), Livery Round Table (LRT) and the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers formed an industry coalition in strong opposition to the proposed rule, which I have previously been reporting on, and putting together our own proposal which we feel makes sense for all within the industry, as well as the customers it is intended to serve: the wheelchair using public.
It must be acknowledged that getting all of these organizations together at one table, working to protect the industry, once thought literally impossible, was indeed done. This, alone, was a massive step forward for our industry as a whole; it should also make it clear just how dire a situation this is.
We met with the TLC Commissioner and Chair, Meera Joshi, several times 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, held at the New York Downtown Marriott on September 28th, as a joint coalition. Additionally, prior to the Public Hearing, we 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 New York City for-hire 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.
Our proposal, which has a sliding scale of service levels to be met over time, guarantees a city-wide average arrival time of 15 minutes. This 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 will aggregate the supply and demand of all the wheelchair accessible vehicles and which would manage all of the accessible ride requests. 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.
Depending on demand, the coalition estimates that it will fund upwards of $18 million dollars towards true reliable wheelchair accessible vehicles. Again, 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 such things as purchasing additional wheelchair accessible vehicles, we are fully prepared to do so.
One of the most important aspects of this proposal, perhaps, 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 the New York 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 going to press, we are hopeful to continue to hold meetings with the TLC to do all we can to protect our industry from such unfair and crippling rule-making. Once the TLC comes to our coalition and approves our proposal all proposal details would be finalized and ready to begin full implementation. Hopefully the TLC and industry can come together quickly to provide service to this underserved part of the community, while also protecting operators across New York City with tens of thousands of employees and drivers who depend on their steady paychecks. I look forward to updating you all soon with good news! Please keep in mind that the BCAC is on Facebook and Twitter! If you have questions about anything you read here, directly messaging us on social media is perhaps the most efficient way of getting your answer as quickly as possible, but also make sure to follow us so you can see the latest news as soon as it breaks. Also, feel free to direct questions to Black Car News Editor/Publisher, Neil Weiss, who has a strong understanding about the situation and our current stances. 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).