Hello to all. October quickly came and went, and I hope everyone has been enjoying the Fall weather as much as possible. I wrote last month that the Fall would bring with it renewed fears of a second wave of COVID-19 and it’s sad to say that our bright path to recovery is starting to get a little murky. Overall, NYC is by no means in a crisis situation like we were earlier this year, but the numbers are slowly starting to creep up. The one bright spot is that hospitalizations are still low, a testament to how much we truly have learned about this virus and how to treat it.

As we brace ourselves for the winter, I cannot overstate how important it is for everyone to continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks. This is particularly important as we start to spend more time indoors as the weather cools.

Before I dive into some of the big news from October, I also want to take this time to, once again, drive home how important it is for our Covered Drivers to take advantage of the free telemedicine benefit we offer. As cases start to rise, and the weather gets colder, telemedicine will play a big role in ensuring that you and your loved ones can quickly address non-emergency conditions without the risk of exposure at a doctor’s office. This service is available to you 24/7 in over 150 languages. I urge everyone to visit www.driversbenefits.org to sign up and be able to use this service.

On another note, Drivers Benefits is also providing flu shot vouchers so that you can get a free flu shot at any Rite Aid, now through December 31st. Avoiding the flu is obviously already important, but it has become absolutely critical during this pandemic. Contracting the flu and COVID-19 at the same time would be tragic and very difficult to recover from. What’s worse is that a surge in flu cases, combined with a surge in COVID-19 cases, would make it much more likely for our healthcare system to be overwhelmed. Don’t wait to get your flu shot!

The first topic I would like to cover involves a change that many have heard of but is finally taking effect – a change in the passenger seatbelt law. Beginning on November 1, all passengers in FHVs, eight years or older, will be required to wear a seatbelt. This applies regardless of where in the vehicle the passenger is sitting.

This is a first for New York and there are some important facts to be aware of. First of all, you should know that as a driver, you will not be on the hook for a fine if your passengers aren’t wearing a seatbelt. If a police officer were to pull you over, the ticket would be written to the passenger, if they are over the age of 16. If the passenger happens to be between the ages of 8 and 15, however, the ticket will be given to the minor’s parent or guardian. Many have expressed concern over whether they could be fined for this, so I wanted to make sure that was clear.

In other New York City news, as many of you know, last year, the Port Authority approved a fee on airport travelers taking taxis or FHVs to or from Newark Airport, LaGuardia or JFK. Originally, the fee was supposed to be $4, for both pick-ups and drop-offs. However, after persistent lobbying from the Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC), and other ground transportation groups, the Port Authority reduced that to $2.50 for FHV pick-ups and drop-offs.

The implementation of the Airport Access Fee was intended to start on October 3, 2020, but at the end of October, it was announced that the start date for this fee was being pushed back to April 5, 2021. This is good news for drivers and passengers, and is welcome in light of the financial hit our industry has taken as a result of the pandemic.

Speaking about government, the Taxi and Limousine Commission held a public hearing this month on some proposed rules that would affect summary suspensions, as well as some miscellaneous clean-up rules. Many drivers testified at the hearing, particularly on the summary suspension rules and I encourage you all to take a moment and read about what the changes are by clicking here.

There was a strong sentiment among those who testified that these changes didn’t go far enough, but ultimately these changes are aimed at preventing instances where a driver is left in limbo regarding their summary suspension and will make things better for drivers whose summary suspensions are ultimately lifted.

Also at this hearing, Diana Clemente, President of the BCAC, testified on the cleanup rules with particular concern over a change that was aimed at High Volume FHV bases, but would also have applied to traditional black car bases that are organized as cooperatives. Her testimony focused on suggesting legislative language that would ensure that black car bases that are organized as cooperatives would be treated the same as those that are franchise models. Ensuring both of these models are on equal footing is important and her testimony was received positively by the TLC’s Board of Commissioners. We anticipate that this inequity will be corrected when these rules are eventually brought to a vote.

On a final note, our newest benefit, S.A.F.E. iD, is nearly full and the response from the drivers participating in it has been overwhelmingly positive. As you know, the Nexar portion of the program that provided free dual-sided dashboard cams has been full since September, but there are a few spots left on our waiting list. If you’re still interested in this, please visit www.nybcf.org/safeid in order to opt-in for the on-board device and to be placed on a waitlist for a Nexar Camera.

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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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