Hello everyone. Before I begin to go into the serious issues faced by our industry today, I want to say that I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday Season, and a safe New Year. I suppose it is somewhat fitting that the issues we currently face lined up with the Holiday Season, perhaps serving as the calm before the storm. However, although the TLC did indeed vote on and pass its proposed FHV WAV rule, this is far from over.
As noted, the TLC Commissioners handed down their votes on the proposed WAV rule, with only one Commissioner dissenting. By doing so, the TLC has irrespectively plotted the course for the widespread and devastating financial ruin of our industry.
Under the newly-passed TLC rule, the industry would need to spend upwards of $1 billion for vehicles simply to comply with the set mandated percentages. Given the steady decline in business and the associated fall in revenues across the board, this simply is not feasible – not to mention the fact that the burden would primarily fall on the shoulders of the drivers. The TLC was duly warned this would be the outcome, making it clear there is an astounding lack of compassion at the TLC for the industry, and those of us within it. Additionally, it shows that there is a true lack of understanding on their part in terms of how our industry works.
As you all know, the FHV Coalition proposed a pilot program designed to efficiently address the issue of accessibility in for-hire vehicles, in a far less devastating and destructive manner. At the December 13 Commission vote, the resolution containing the basic framework of the Coalition plan was indeed voted on and passed – but it was the very definition of bittersweet, due to the number of “poison pill” provisions baked into the resolution.
For example, the TLC Chair may, at its discretion and for any reason whatsoever, cancel the pilot program at any point in time, leaving our industry with only the TLC mandate to contend with – an unacceptable outcome. Not to mention, to go about initiating the Coalition pilot program, numerous companies would need to be set up and millions of dollars spent, not to mention the countless hours of work required to get this all done. It makes no sense. How can they urge us to proceed with the Coalition’s pilot program – and at the same time, tell us that all our industry investments and hard work could be lost at any moment, and our version discarded, on a whim.
During talks with the TLC on this particular issue, we were assured that this is a standard pilot program provision – and they’d be right, if all we were talking about was a pilot program to test roof-top advertising systems or new types of in-vehicle screens. But the Coalition pilot program is FAR from a standard pilot program, not to mention it was developed by the leaders of our industry, who have served this city well for decades, and who have a far better understanding of applicable, efficient and realistic solutions.
TLC Commissioner Nora Constance Marino was the single dissenting vote among the Board. She realizes that she saw the true sincerity of the Coalition and our plan, and its intent to provide a real solution. As an attorney with ample experience in a variety of practice areas, she understands that an industry should get a chance to repair itself when a flaw is found, as the members of an industry are most likely best suited to arrive at efficient, realistic and responsible solutions.
To explain her vote of dissent, Commissioner Marino stated: “The people that are in the industry and have been for decades have a pretty good idea of how to solve problems within the industries, as opposed to people who are not in the industry, who are reading books or looking at charts and flowsheets and all that – so for these reasons, I’m voting no. I think we can do better than what’s proposed today.”
Similarly, we do not believe the now-passed TLC rule is the best solution for people who require wheelchair accessible vehicles. Condemnation of the TLC rule can even be found in some surprising places, such as in a November 2017 Crain’s New York Business Op-Ed, written by accessibility advocate Dustin Jones, President and Founder of United Equal Access New York, and a wheelchair user himself. In his op-ed, he summarizes the conversations he’s had with various drivers of accessible yellow and green taxis and the financial burdens they all characterized to him, citing the low amount of funding they receive from the TLC Taxi Improvement Fund (TIF) as the main cause.
The TLC collects $0.30 on every non-accessible yellow and green taxi ride to subsidize those drivers who do operate the accessible offerings, but these drivers claim that the amounts they receive are far from enough. Jones suggests app companies, such as Uber and Lyft, be mandated to contribute to the TIF, as he feels that infusion of extra funding would enable the accessible taxi program to sustain itself. Ultimately though, his op-ed criticizes the TLC for allowing this issue to arise at all, suggesting the agency has had the ability to solve this problem, but simply has not.
A quote attributed to Winston Churchill notes that, “A really good compromise is the one that leaves both sides equally dissatisfied.” As members of this industry, we can all agree we have grown to learn the definition of compromise, which is why we can all come together now and say with certainty that what happened on December 13 was not one, in the least. While the industry can’t help but take the new TLC rule as a personal slight, what is clear is that the new TLC rule was drafted with the goal of furthering agency and de Blasio administration agendas – a far stretch from passing this rule out of passion or a sense of personal responsibility to the city it serves. Bothersome, right?
Chances are that this will all end up in litigation. Like I said at the very beginning of this column, this is far from over, as our industry literally cannot afford for it to be. Our industry remains committed, as always, to providing accessible service in an efficient manner – this is something which will not change.
As you read this, it will already be 2018, and the roller coaster that was 2017 will finally be behind us. A lot happened in 2017… the world changed in so many ways, most of which were not for the better. I hope that as we move ahead in 2018, we all make personal and professional strides not just to better ourselves, but also those around us through our actions and attitudes.
To help with those professional strides, the BCAC has some exciting new partnerships lined up in 2018. Not a BCAC member yet? Make sure you become one so you don’t miss out on the amazing offerings to come! Contact Jason Fromberg, the BCAC Communications Specialist at 1-929-358-7903 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get the membership ball rolling today!
Until next time…