Hello everybody, and welcome to spring! As I am writing this, I can say that for all of us in New York, we’ve not really had much of a spring presence – especially seeing as how the first day of spring also brought with it the region’s fourth nor’easter in just a matter of weeks. I hope you and your drivers all remained safe while digging out! Before we begin, depending on when you are reading this, some holidays may have passed or may just be coming up. For those of you who may be celebrating Passover, Lailat al Miraj or Easter this month, I hope you celebrate safely, happily and in good health, surrounded by loved ones. That being said, we have a lot to go over, so let’s dig in.

First off, I’d like to start by providing an update on the issue of congestion pricing. As you read this, the April 1st deadline for the New York State budget will have already come and gone, so we will know which specific congestion pricing initiatives have been included in the Governor’s budget, and which have been left out, and left for future legislative efforts. Leading up to that, however, all we have to go by are context clues, like the comments made recently by Governor Cuomo in a WNYC interview.

When asked if the state Senate was on-board with the congestion pricing initiatives being pushed in the Assembly, he replied, “It’s tenuous at best right now – across the board.” What he did add, however, makes it clear that while a full version of congestion pricing might not surface any time soon, what may take place is a “phase in” of for-hire vehicles.

When asked about this on NY1, Governor Cuomo said, “I think that would be phased in and I’m hoping to start with the first phase of for-hire vehicles. A lot of the congestion comes from these new Ubers and Lyfts which stay in the central business district, the business district of Manhattan, and we’re looking for a surcharge on those vehicles that are in the zone, and [will] dedicate that funding to the subway funding long term and use it as a step one in an overall congestion-pricing plan.”

Curious about the surcharge amounts the Governor was referring to? Well, in the Assembly, the Democrats have thrown their support behind a plan (the only piece of legislation on this yet submitted) which proposes a $1 fee be applied to each and every ride conducted by for-hire vehicles, including those conducted for ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft statewide, with that $1 fee ballooning to $2.75 for trips in Manhattan below 96th Street – outer borough trips would be subject to the $1 fee. Taxis, who are also a massive presence in Manhattan’s central business district, would only be required to charge passengers a $0.50 fee per ride, which has long been the case.

Extremely notable is the fact that the entire Livery sector would be exempt from any such fees under this plan. While the Governor has not clearly stated whether or not that fee structure is one he is in favor of, The Black Car Fund (BCF) and Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC) has already taken a position on the issue of congestion pricing. After careful thought, both The BCF and BCAC are endorsing congestion pricing, however, it is not without conditions, and we remain unwilling to accept it as is. The only way we support congestion pricing is if parity for our Industry is reached.

The way the current Assembly plan works, it is effectively the government putting itself in the position to pick winners and losers from within the Industry. By forcing outer borough residents with more limited transportation options to pay a higher fee than those in Manhattan’s central business district who enjoy the luxury of hailing a plethora of cruising taxis with lower fee amounts, the inequality is made clear. As such, the condition for our support is that the Black Car Industry must be relieved of the sales tax responsibility; otherwise, no true parity can be achieved.

We have embarked on a Facebook messaging campaign, Fare Equality NY, (Facebook.com/FareEqualityNY) aimed at getting New York’s for-hire drivers to understand exactly what this would cost them, and how unfair this move truly is. Riders in the outer boroughs would be paying 3x the amount of sales tax than a Manhattan resident hailing a taxi in the most congested area of Manhattan. Drivers would begin to see fares continue to decrease, as a result of outer borough consumers unwilling, or unable to pay the extra fee. If the true purpose of any of New York congestion pricing initiative is to both decrease traffic congestion in Manhattan’s central business district, as well as raise funding for the MTA, then there is no reason, then, for taxis to be treated any differently than any others. Again – our government should NOT be in the business of picking winners and losers, and with this, it is exactly what is taking place.

You already read what the Governor said regarding congestion pricing making it into the state budget, however, you should all be aware of the fact that after the April 1st deadline, all the way up until the June end of the legislative session, it is entirely possible for individual bills to make their way through which roll-out more congestion pricing initiatives. I encourage you all to Like and Share our Facebook page, Fare Equality NY, and to follow us on social media for updates as soon as they happen!

Next, on the long-running issue of FHV accessibility. In my last column, I explained that the FHV Coalition was still in negotiations with the TLC on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in order to embark on the pilot program. Well, that is still the case and talks on a mutually-protecting MOU are still underway – however, since my last column, there has been another development which many of you may not take as a surprise. The BCF, BCAC, LANY, LBOA and LRT have filed a federal case against the NYC TLC to prohibit the agency from enforcement of its recently-passed FHV accessibility rule, mandating all FHV bases dispatch a certain percentage of dispatches to accessible vehicles, whether or not the passenger requested an accessible vehicle.

We anticipate, in the absence of a settlement, that a hearing will be held April 16th on the case. This being such an important issue to so many from within our Industry, we will most likely be calling on the Industry for help in making a statement at the hearing in the form of a standing room only crowd, to show the Judge just how many New Yorkers are prepared to step up to help protect their precious Industry, but also their fellow driver. Also, you may have gotten a letter from the TLC discussing the compliance options for the first year of enforcement – do not worry about this letter. There is nothing in this letter unexpected, or any type of new information. We encourage you to please follow us on social media in order to find out how you may be able to help!

Finally, the TLC announced plans to embark on a yellow and green taxi pilot program which would allow them to utilize TLC-approved taxi e-hail applications, and therefore, enjoy features like providing consumers with up-front and binding fare quotes, as well as “surge pricing,” or rates of fare determined via algorithm based on current ride demands. With so much going on in our Industry, the BCAC is curious to know where you stand on this potential TLC pilot program. If you have the time, please visit NYBCAC.org to quickly let us know where you stand on it. This invitation is open to all – BCAC membership not required to participate! As soon as you are on our Home Page, you will see right where to click!

I believe that does it for this month. I am very excited to bring you all my next few columns, as some new, EXTREMELY valuable driver benefits are slated to be unveiled by The Black Car Fund… so stay tuned! And with that, I leave you all until May! Drive carefully, everyone!

 

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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