Hello to all! It’s hard to believe how fast Summer came and went. As we approach the start of Fall this month, it’s great to see that New York continues to be doing well, at least as far as the pandemic goes.

This month, however, does bring up a lot of questions. As I write this, the school issue is still up in the air and it remains to be seen whether in-person learning becomes a reality, or if we will take a more cautious approach. This month has also continued to show the disconnect between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.

When Cuomo announced that gyms could reopen throughout the State, de Blasio came out and said that it wouldn’t happen in NYC by the end of August, and offered no timetable. Shortly after, he pulled an about-face and said that they could reopen at the start of September. As the rest of the country continues struggling with the pandemic, it’s not surprising that New York is taking a much more measured approach to reopening, but it would be nice to see the Mayor and Governor get on the same page.

Political feuds simply seem to be part of the fabric of this Country. Last month, Congress failed to come to an agreement on another stimulus deal, leaving millions of Americans in desperation. This failure led to the President signing Executive Orders to defer payroll taxes through the end of the year, as well as defer student loan payments, discourage evictions and extend the enhanced unemployment benefits that expired at the end of July, albeit at a reduced level of $400 rather than $600. These actions ultimately fall short of what another stimulus bill will do, whenever Congress can get its act together.

The sad reality is that these failures truly hurt those who need the help the most, such as the black car industry. Stimulus payments, enhanced unemployment and small business support are particularly important to the drivers and operators of an industry that was among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

August also saw a lot happening with regard to California’s AB5 and the independent contractor versus employee issue. Early in the month, a California judge issued a preliminary injunction that required Uber and Lyft to classify their drivers as employees, with only a 10-day period to appeal the decision. Uber filed an emergency appeal to block the ruling from going into effect, and at the same time, Uber and Lyft both made public statements that they would have to cease all operations in California if the ruling wasn’t blocked.

It appeared that Uber & Lyft were going to go forward with ceasing operations, but at the last minute, an appeals court ruled that the companies could continue operating with their drivers as independent contractors while they continue their fight against AB5.

Early this year, it appeared that the independent contractor issue was going to be a cornerstone of Albany’s legislative agenda in 2020. However, following the pandemic, this issue has been placed on the back burner for the time being in New York.

In New York City, Uber and Lyft also made headlines alongside the Taxi & Limousine Commission. An article was published in Crain’s which blasted the TLC for failing to enforce Local Law 149, enacted two years ago, which created a category for High Volume For Hire Vehicles (HVFHV), which Uber & Lyft would fall into. This law required HVFHVs to apply for a special permit through the TLC, and would also require them to turn over records, including driver compensation, environmental impact and financial impact reports.

The article stated that while Uber & Lyft had applied for these permits, the TLC dragged their feet and had not approved the applications yet. The TLC denied this claim, stating that just before the article had run, the applications for Uber, Lyft and Via had been approved and that the companies were notified. Regardless of what the truth may be, the article was definitely an embarrassing blow to the TLC, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ramp up enforcement of all rules, especially for black cars and FHVs. They surely don’t want to appear lenient at a time like this, and Commissioner Heredia Jarmoszuk will want to show strength. After all, this is a problem that she inherited from the prior Commissioner and unfairly caught the heat for.

Moving onto some news from The Black Car Fund, in previous months, I had written about our newest, free benefit for Covered Drivers called Safety Advancement for Excellence in Driving, or simply S.A.F.E. iD. Although rides have been down dramatically during this pandemic, we have continued offering this benefit to drivers.

As you may know, the program uses telematics technology, in the form of a dual-sided dashboard camera and/or an on-board device (OBD) to keep you connected with The Black Car Fund for Workers’ Compensation purposes and to help you to take steps towards becoming one of the safest drivers in the industry. In the unfortunate event that you are involved in an accident on the job, the S.A.F.E. iD device will notify us immediately and help jump-start start the claims process!

There are also many more perks that the program offers. You will have the ability to see your driving statistics and receive tips on the areas in which you can improve your driving. Also, the dashboard camera protects you by providing you with a recording of both the inside and outside of your vehicle when you drive. In the event of an accident or an unruly passenger, it certainly helps to have video evidence!

I encourage every driver to visit www.nybcf.org/safeid and opt-in for this free benefit while there are still spots open.

Lastly, when the pandemic started, we were forced to temporarily halt our Enhanced Defensive Driving Classes, as well as The BCF Wellness STEP Program Class. However, I’m happy to announce that the classes have officially resumed with smaller class sizes and social distancing protocols in place.

In case you didn’t know already, Covered Drivers are eligible to receive a $300 payment, once every three years, for completing our Enhanced Defensive Driving Class. You can also receive a one-time payment of $150 for completing the Wellness STEP Program class.

Due to the smaller class sizes, and the massive demand due to the class’ lack of availability over the last several months, spots are filling up rapidly! To sign up for a class, visit www.blackcarsafetyclasses.com.

Please note: if you don’t see any classes, it’s because all the spots have been claimed. New classes are added every Monday at 11:00am sharp, so I strongly encourage you to visit the website at that time. We are also working to expand the number of classes held in order to compensate for the smaller class sizes, so keep an eye out for more information and announcements on this.

Until next time!

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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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