Hello to all! As we enter the final few weeks of summer, I wish I could say that COVID-19 is behind us. Unfortunately, August has made it clear that we are not out of the woods. This month, New York City became the first U.S. city to require proof of at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine for a range of indoor businesses including restaurants, gyms and performances.

While the city hasn’t yet reestablished an indoor mask mandate, other cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco have – and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if New York City follows suit. Speaking of masks, don’t forget that the Federal mask mandate has not changed, and it supersedes city and state rules. That means that you and your passengers must be wearing a mask at all times while on a trip!

Amazingly, this new vaccine requirement wasn’t the biggest news of the month. No, that title is reserved for our former Governor Andrew Cuomo, who resigned after months of holding onto power in the face of numerous allegations of sexual harassment. On August 23rd, Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul became our new Governor, and moments later, the calls came for her to fast-track congestion pricing.

This month, the MTA announced a 16-month timeline to complete the required federal environmental assessment. Mayor de Blasio called the timetable “ridiculous” and dozens of environmental, transit and good government groups have called on Governor Hochul to put congestion pricing at the top of her agenda.

Considering the environmental assessment, the fact that the Traffic Mobility Review Board has yet to be fully appointed, and the time it will take to install the infrastructure, it seems like we’re still close to two years away, at best. However, with the support the plan has, including from both Governor Hochul and soon-to-be Mayor Adams, it has never been more certain that congestion pricing is coming.

Speaking of congestion, at the beginning of August Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Transportation unveiled their plan to “save and reimagine the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway”. If you’ve ever driven on the BQE then you probably believe the BQE is beyond saving but nevertheless, the announced plans hope to extend the life of the BQE for at least another 20 years. I encourage you to visit the link above and read about everything the plan entails.

For now, please be aware that as of August 30th, the DOT will be reducing the BQE from three lanes to two between Atlantic Avenue and the Brooklyn Bridge. This part of the plan is aimed at reducing the weight on the roadway and promoting safety by creating dedicated entry and exit lanes, as well as an adequate shoulder lane. In the same breath though, the DOT warned that the new traffic pattern will result in substantial delays. That, at least, we know is true.

Another topic I want to touch on is the report released earlier this year by the TLC that evaluated the For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) industry’s progress with the wait-time requirements for providing wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) trips. As you may know, back in 2017, the TLC wanted to impose a ridiculous and arbitrary rule that would have required 25% of all FHV trips to be made in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle (WAV) by the middle of 2023. In an unprecedented coalition, I rallied the Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC) as we united with liveries and the High-Volume FHVs and filed multiple lawsuits to stop this rule.

If it had passed, there’s no question it would have devastated our industry. The rule that was eventually passed, which established the Central Dispatch Exception, changed the requirement from a flat % of trips, to instead requiring the accessible vehicle dispatchers to meet wait time requirements. Specifically, 80% of WAV requests need to be fulfilled in 15 minutes or less and 90% to be fulfilled within 30 minutes.

The report released this spring found that in June, July, August and September 2020, Uber met both those minimums, Lyft met both requirements in two of the four months and Via only had one month in which it met both requirements. Frankly, this proves that the lawsuits filed were correct and that the TLC had tried a massive overreach in their initial attempt to impose the blanket 25% requirement.

There’s no question that this mandate would have been financially catastrophic. Time has shown that we were right and the Central Dispatch Exception model is working.

I’d also like to give an update on our ongoing efforts to root out Workers’ Compensation fraud. In July, another driver was criminally convicted in yet another case of Workers’ Compensation fraud. This driver had fraudulently received benefits for lost wages between March 2017 and March 2019, by claiming they were unable to work when in fact, they continued to work. In this case, the driver was charged with Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, Insurance Fraud in the Third Degree, and Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree. They negotiated a plea agreement which will ultimately knock the felony grand larceny charge down to a misdemeanor petit larceny charge. In order for that to happen though, the driver must fulfill the terms of the plea agreement, which includes paying The Fund restitution of nearly $8,300. Either way, the driver will carry a criminal record with them for the rest of their life. The lesson is clear, Workers’ Compensation fraud is simply not worth it.

On a lighter note, The Black Car Fund was excited to be one of the sponsors for the Independent Drivers Guild’s Driver Appreciation Day, which took place on August 7th. Hundreds and hundreds of drivers came out to Forest Park in Queens for a family-friendly fun day of games, activities, and food.

We had the opportunity to speak with dozens of our Covered Drivers about the many benefits they are eligible for and handed out lots of promotional materials, including hand sanitizing wristbands and COVID-19 Vaccination card holders. We also spoke with many about the benefits of our S.A.F.E. iD telematics program and several drivers even won free dashboard cameras from our S.A.F.E. iD partners at Nexar and Vuro.

Don’t forget, our Covered Drivers are still eligible to receive these free dashboard cameras, as well as on-board devices, through our S.A.F.E. iD program. Inventory is limited and orders are quickly filling up so don’t wait… visit www.nybcf.org/safeid to opt-in now!

Until next time!

Article by Ira Goldstein

Ira J. Goldstein is the Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund and Advisor to the Black Car Assistance Corp. (BCAC).

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