Hello to all! I hope everyone has been enjoying the Spring weather. With all the stresses and demands of life, it helps sometimes to stop for a minute and smell the flowers. If you take a look around, it really looks like New York City is coming back. However, I always like knowing what the data is showing us, and this time around it’s looking good. A Crain’s article that came out in late April pointed to a few markers that are very encouraging. Subway ridership peaked at 57% of pre-pandemic levels, during a week where public schools were closed. Meanwhile, 100% of drivers are back and this is despite offices remaining just one-third occupied.

Hotel occupancy has risen to nearly 78% and OpenTable data shows that about 9 out of 10 diners are back. Even Broadway is doing extremely well, with grosses and attendance at 86% and 80%, respectively, compared to 2019 levels. These are very promising signs and ultimately means more business for the ground transportation industry.

Moving on, April was a busy month and there is a lot to cover, so I’ll just jump right into it!

The biggest news of the month was Mayor Adams naming David Do to serve as the next Chair and Commissioner of the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC). He is currently the Director of Washington DC’s Department of For-Hire Vehicles. Like NYC, DC has a fast-moving and competitive for-hire vehicle (FHV) industry, and he oversaw it throughout the pandemic. I’ve met David in the past through our work with The International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) and I do believe it is important to have someone with his level of experience overseeing the TLC. The next step is for his nomination to be confirmed by the City Council.

As I said in the press release from Mayor Adams’s administration, David Do has the experience and expertise to guide TLC into the future, while ensuring drivers and operators have the support they need to move our industry and our recovery forward. The Black Car Fund looks forward to working with David to create safer streets, a better transportation network, and conditions that allow drivers and the for-hire vehicle industry to thrive.

In mid-April, a federal judge in Florida struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) mask mandate for travel on planes, trains, buses, and other public transportation, including FHVs and taxis. This mandate had been extended by the CDC just a few days earlier and was set to run until May 3rd. The Biden Administration announced their intent to appeal the judge’s decision, but not before there was a great deal of confusion regarding how this applies to drivers and passengers in New York City. The TLC soon stated that nothing has changed regarding their mask mandate. So please remember that drivers and passengers must continue to wear a mask in TLC-licensed vehicles, regardless of vaccination status. If and when this changes, the TLC will inform all licensees.

In other City news, the dreaded twice-per-week alternate side parking regulations will return beginning July 5th. When the pandemic first struck, alternate side parking regulations were fully suspended for some time. When they returned, only the second day for streets with two-day alternate side parking rules (i.e., Tuesday & Thursday) were enforced.

Most have probably gotten used to these rules only being enforced once a week so there is certainly going to be some frustration. However, Department of Sanitation (DSNY) officials touted this move as part of an $11 million investment in street cleaning and claim that enforcing the full rules will help restore streets to their full cleanliness.

April also had a truly terrifying day when a subway shooter set off smoke grenades and opened fire in a crowded N train. Miraculously, no one died but 10 people were shot and over a dozen more suffered injuries from the smoke and panic. A citywide manhunt immediately followed and he was arrested the next day. Due to the immediate stop of subway service in the area around the shooting, hundreds of people turned to Uber and Lyft to get home or to work. As you know, this sudden and massive demand sent surge prices skyrocketing, and the companies soon faced criticism for this because many saw it as a company profiting on a tragic emergency.

It didn’t take long for a politician to jump all over the issue either. A few days later, Assemblymember Kenny Burgos announced legislation called the Stop Unreasonable Rideshare Gouging During Emergencies (S.U.R.G.E.) Act which would prohibit Transportation Network Companies (TNCs), or High-Volume FHVs as they’re known in NYC, from implementing surge pricing during declared federal, state and local emergencies. Companies would face a $250 fine for each occurrence of violating this law. As of the time I’m writing this, the bill has a few sponsors in the State Assembly, but has no partner bill in the State Senate. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the bill won’t progress, but it certainly needs to exist and have support in both houses. It’s in the early stages and something worth keeping an eye on.

Moving on, I’m excited to announce that the curriculum for The Black Car Fund’s Wellness STEP class has been revamped! As you know, our Covered Drivers have been eligible for a one-time payment of $150 for completing this class and many have done so. However, due to the revamping of the curriculum, we wanted to let you know that you can now take this FREE class, even if you have already taken it in the past, and receive a one-time payment of $150! Visit our website at www.nybcf.org/wellness to learn about the updated curriculum and visit www.blackcarsafetyclasses.com to sign up for the class!

On a similar note, I want to talk again about The Black Car Fund and our free additional health, wellness and education-related benefits that we offer. Last month, I spoke with City & State about The Fund and how important these benefits were during the pandemic. If you recall, in April’s column I wrote about the looming legislative deadline for us to continue providing these additional benefits. I also spoke about this with City & State and reiterated that we’re working with the Independent Drivers Guild to have new legislation passed that will extend this deadline so that we can continue providing the additional benefits. The best way to ensure that lawmakers will pass this legislation is to sign up for Drivers Benefits and take advantage of the numerous FREE health, wellness and education benefits we provide. Visit ny.driversbenefits.org now to sign up, learn more and start using your benefits now!

Lastly, don’t forget that if you’re a Covered Driver with an accepted Workers’ Compensation claim and have been receiving your indemnity payments by paper check, you can now receive them via Direct Deposit! If you would like to enroll in Direct Deposit, please visit www.nybcf.org/directdeposit and sign up!

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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