Hello to all! August was quite the month. To say that it has been busy and stressful would be a huge understatement, and we owe it all to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). As you may know, in mid-August the MTA released the long-awaited Environmental Assessment (EA) report that they were required to perform in order to move forward with the Central Business District Tolling Program (CBDTP), commonly referred to as congestion pricing. We’ve long held concerns about what the potential toll structure would be for the taxi and for-hire vehicle (FHV) sectors, but what was unveiled is truly an existential threat to the entire for-hire vehicle industry. There’s a lot to cover here, so I’ll jump right into it.
The MTA’s EA report analyzes the anticipated effects of a congestion pricing tolling charge for vehicles entering Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD), as well as provides several different tolling scenarios and structures. These scenarios differ on whether crossing credits are provided for various crossings into the CBD, as well as whether exemptions or caps would apply to sectors such as taxis, FHVs, buses, trucks, and private vehicles. This is where the problems start. The potential tolls for drivers entering the CBD range from $9 to $23 during peak hours and $5 to $12 during off peak hours. None of the scenarios provide an exemption for FHVs, and only two of them allow for a once-a-day cap on the congestion charge.
There’s no sugarcoating this; if the black car industry is subject to an uncapped congestion charge in the price range that is being suggested, it will be an absolute death blow to the black car and high volume for-hire vehicle (Uber and Lyft) industries. Thousands of drivers will likely lose their jobs from the decrease in passenger demand. The seriousness of this issue, and the dire writing on the wall, led to the formation of an informal coalition, that The Black Car Fund, the Black Car Assistance Corporation, Uber and Lyft have all joined, which penned a letter to the MTA’s Traffic Mobility Review Board, outlining the grave concerns that we all have.
First and foremost, since 2019 FHVs have been subject to a surcharge of $2.75 for rides entering into Manhattan below 96th street. In the time since then, the taxi and FHV industries have contributed close to $1 billion in revenue through this surcharge alone to the MTA. While the MTA may argue that this money is for other purposes, the MTA should not be double taxing our industries.
Also, the MTA themselves recognize in the EA report that the CBDTP will result in substantial job losses among FHV drivers. Their “solution” – waiving bus operator exam fees – is one of the most laughable, out of touch, and frankly insulting solutions imaginable, especially when you consider the level of investment that most drivers have made in this career. Their secondary solution, a pilot program under Access-A-Ride (“AAR”) is equally as flawed. The MTA has tried for years, unsuccessfully, to recruit FHV drivers to do AAR trips. Even if it could successfully get past this problem for the first time, AAR does a small fraction of the trips that would be lost to double taxation on FHVs. The MTA should not treat job loss in the for-hire vehicle industry so cavalierly.
I strongly encourage everyone to read the full letter that was sent, as it covers many real and serious concerns that the FHV industry has on this issue. Frankly, the MTA wants to put you out of business and drivers throughout New York need to come out strongly against these proposed tolling scenarios. I also strongly encourage everyone to contact their local elected officials in the City Council, State Assembly and State Senate to voice your concerns and opposition. You can visit https://www.mygovnyc.org/ to find out who your representatives are. Write to them, call them, and show up to their community meetings to express your displeasure with congestion pricing and the possibility of losing your job. Having a strong, unified voice is the only hope our industries have to protect our future.
Throughout the end of August, the MTA also held a series of public hearings on the Environmental Assessment to give the public the opportunity to voice their concerns. Hundreds and hundreds signed up to speak, with each hearing lasting several hours. The Black Car Fund submitted both written and oral testimony to the MTA. Our argument was that the MTA’s Environmental Assessment acknowledges that congestion pricing will have a “disproportionately high and adverse effect” on the taxi and for-hire vehicle driver populations yet does not mitigate these harms to a practicable extent which violates federal directives.
We went on to argue that the most obvious and effective mitigation would be to exempt for-hire vehicles from the toll altogether and at a minimum, the agency should reject any scenario that does not include a once-a-day cap on tolls charged to for-hire vehicles. Ultimately though, no real efforts are proposed to mitigate the devastating effects the tolling program will have on drivers. That is contrary to multiple federal agency directives. It’s also just wrong. We believe the Environmental Assessment as it’s written must be rejected and will continue advocating for FHVs to be exempt.
Now let’s move onto some lighter, happier news. Last month, I wrote that the black car safety center would be moving to a new location. Now I’m happy to let you know that the move is complete and the safety center has been renamed to The Black Car Fund Driver Education Center. The address for the new center is 3710 Skillman Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101. This location is massive compared to the old one and includes multiple classrooms, revamped facilities and even some limited, free indoor parking. With all this space, we are going to be able to provide more classes than ever before.
As always, we want you to be able to Earn While You Learn, so we’re happy to let you know that we are putting the final touches on a new class that will focus on educating drivers on all the benefits that The Black Car Fund offers, as well as provide some additional safety instruction. The class will also be available online! Keep an eye out for next month’s Black Car News where we will give you all the details for the new class!
Lastly, The Black Car Fund was happy to once again be a sponsor of the Independent Drivers Guild’s Annual Family BBQ. It was a great day with great weather and we were excited to have an opportunity to speak with so many drivers! We’re already looking forward to next year!
Until next month!