Hello to all! Spring has sprung and I hope everyone is enjoying the warmer weather as much as I am. Along with warmer temperatures, March also seems to have brought some hope for an uptick in business. As vaccinations continue throughout New York, it’s starting to look like we’re well on the path to some normalcy. One indicator of this is that occupancy rates at U.S. hotels reached 52% this month, the highest since COVID-19 lockdowns began. Wall street is also betting that a combination of mass vaccination, and the stimulus checks most Americans received this month, will lead to a travel boom, which as we all know is good for business. While things are certainly less scary than they were a year ago, it’s still no time to let your guard down. Keep wearing a mask, get a COVID-19 vaccination, sanitize and wash your hands, and make smart decisions!

Some of the biggest news this month came from the Port Authority, who after weeks of negotiations with the Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC), made several concessions on their new “Privilege Permit” which all FHV bases are going to need in order to work at the airports. I know that a majority of you readers drive for Uber or Lyft, but for those who work with smaller, traditional black car bases, it’s likely that these concessions saved your job.

To make a long story short, beginning on April 5th, the Port Authority’s new ‘Privilege Permit’ will be required by bases in order to work at the three major airports: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark. When the idea was first floated, many requirements to obtain this permit, such as volume based initial fees, minimum deposits and technological and insurance requirements, would have been impossible for traditional black car bases to comply with. It also would likely have resulted in higher auto insurance costs to drivers. Luckily, the Black Car Assistance Corporation was there to ensure that the Port Authority recognized this. Ultimately, they agreed to omit many of these requirements for traditional black car bases, preserving their ability to dispatch jobs at the airports.

April 5th is also the start date for the Port Authority’s Airport Access Fee. All FHVs, including the app-based companies like Uber and Lyft, will be charged $2.50 for each pick up and drop-off at the major airports. When the airport access fee was first proposed, the Port Authority wanted to charge $4 for each FHV pickup and drop-off. The BCAC was able to successfully negotiate the decrease in the fee.

This month, I also had the opportunity to testify on behalf of the black car industry at a public hearing of the NY State Senate’s Committees on Transportation and Labor. I spoke about The Black Car Fund and the many benefits that we provide to drivers, who wouldn’t receive them in any other state in the country. At a time when employment classification is at the forefront of many agendas, The Black Car Fund continues to prove that it’s possible to provide massive numbers of workers with benefits while preserving the freedom of being an independent contractor.

Moving on to some City news, the TLC announced that they are extending the cap on new FHV licenses for another six months. Back in August, the TLC completed its first review of whether additional FHV licenses would be needed to meet demand. At that time, they had extended the FHV license cap until February 2021. After their second review, they have decided that no additional FHV licenses will be issued before the conclusion of their next review, set for August 2021. I would encourage everyone to read the report here to get an idea of what factors the TLC considers when making this decision.

As I wrap up, I wanted to give an update on the story about the five drivers who had been charged with fraud by the State Workers’ Compensation Board. The article warned that in addition to being charged by the Workers Compensation Board, they could also be charged criminally. Last month, a driver was charged with a felony, Grand Larceny, for defrauding The Black Car Fund. He agreed a plea deal which lowered his charge to petit larceny, and he was sentenced to provide full restitution to The Fund for the $11,235.18 he fraudulently obtained. Now, he will have a criminal record. No amount of fraudulently obtained funds are worth ruining your life!

On a final note, last month I wrote about our new partnership with Vuro Technologies that expanded our S.A.F.E. iD program. Through Vuro, we are able to provide drivers who opt into S.A.F.E. iD with BOTH a free dual-sided dashboard camera, as well as an onboard device, to bring them the best of both worlds. The Vuro devices also have new features such as distraction and drowsiness alerts, a panic button, and even a parking mode that protects your car while it’s parked and can record if it senses motion or impact. The spots in this part of the program are filling up fast and the devices won’t be available for much longer. Don’t wait! Head on over to  www.nybcf.org/safeid to opt-in now!

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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