Hello and a Happy New Year to all! I hope everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season and had the opportunity to celebrate with loved ones. Now that the holidays are over, we are entering the heart of winter – and along with increasingly cold weather, we also have to contend with a seasonal increase in illness. COVID-19 numbers have been, as expected, creeping up slowly. More alarming however, have been the number of flu cases going around in December. Compared to 2019, the last winter before the pandemic, the number of flu cases are up over 25 fold during the same time period.

Some of this could be attributable to improved testing, reporting, and an increased focus on public health, but even with that considered, there’s no doubt we are in a historic flu season and hospitals are bracing for a continued surge in cases.

Historically, January and February are much worse for cases so it’s only going to get worse. As with COVID-19, the flu is not to be taken lightly. We tend to throw the word “flu” around cavalierly whenever we’re pretty sick, when in reality it’s likely just a bad cold. Anyone who has had a real case of the flu can tell you how devastating it can be, especially to the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

I urge you to take the flu seriously and get vaccinated. Until the end of February, drivers who are signed up with Drivers Benefits can receive a voucher for a free flu shot, paid for by the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG). Visit https://ny.driversbenefits.org/benefits/free-flu-shots/ to learn more and access this benefit now!

As many of you likely know, in December, Uber sued the City and the TLC in order to temporarily block the driver pay increases that the TLC had just passed. The raise, which would have increased driver pay by 7.42% per minute and 23.93% by mile, were set to take effect on December 19th. In its suit, Uber claimed the pay hike was “arbitrary and capricious” because the TLC changed its method for calculating inflation and refused to provide the data that it based its measure on. This was enough for a Manhattan Supreme Court Judge to grant an order blocking the raise from going into effect until arguments can be heard in court at the end of January.

The TLC came out strongly against the suit and said that it plans to appeal the decision. Hundreds of drivers also came out in force on December 19th to protest Uber at Foley Square in Manhattan at a rally organized by the IDG. Ultimately, I think it will be very difficult for Uber to successfully argue in court that the TLC acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner. It is a high bar to meet.

In other TLC news, more details surrounding the upcoming release of new FHV licenses for electric vehicles (EVs) were released early in December. Beginning in 2023, the TLC will issue up to a thousand new FHV licenses specifically for EVs. Of these thousand, four hundred will be unrestricted and distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, to applicants who meet the licensing criteria. The other 600 will be restricted to individual drivers who have been leasing a TLC-licensed vehicle.

In order to get one of these licenses, drivers must submit a statement of interest, and then the TLC will contact them to submit an FHV application. Drivers will have 120 days from the date they are contacted by the Commission to fulfill all licensing requirements, including purchasing an electric vehicle, the submission of proof of insurance, payment of application fees, and possession of a valid Driver License. The TLC will be holding a public hearing on this on January 11th at 10am and I strongly encourage drivers to attend and participate.

As we move onto other city news, I would like to offer an update on the congestion pricing issue and the latest timeline that we seem to be working with. At this time, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has received the City’s Environmental Assessment and is reviewing public comments. After its review, the USDOT will decide whether a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. If that is the case, it will add, at minimum, another 18-24 months to the process.

Ultimately, after the USDOT’s final review, the NYS Traffic Mobility Review Board will then be activated to make recommendations on a pricing model and submit them to the MTA for review. There is a lot that can happen between then and now, however, that can cause further delays. For example, a resolution was recently introduced in the City Council that would call on the State to put the congestion pricing plan through the state ballot process. If the resolution were to pass the City Council, it would still need to go through the legislative process on the state level. Even if it were to succeed there, it’s extremely likely that New York’s voters would ultimately vote for congestion pricing.

Before I wrap up, I also want to make everyone aware of another piece of legislation that has been introduced in the City Council that could end up hurting drivers. Council Member Lincoln Restler introduced a bill that would give citizens the power to report vehicles blocking bike and bus lanes, as well as vehicles that block entrances or exits of school buildings, sidewalks and crosswalks. Citizens would then be entitled to 25% of a $175 proposed fine for each instance.

As you know, TLC drivers are allowed to quickly stop in bus lanes to pick up or drop off passengers, but overzealous citizens looking to make a quick buck probably won’t know this. They’ll simply snap a picture and then drivers will pay the price. Even if they’re able to successfully argue these violations at an OATH hearing, it’s still a hassle and loss of time. This is a dangerous bill that needs to be followed and, if passed, needs to be amended to protect TLC drivers from unfair fines. I urge everyone to keep an eye on this bill, and when the opportunity arises to testify on it at a public hearing, we will need to make sure our concerns are heard.

On a final note, I wanted to again mention our new Accident Disability Insurance Plan! This benefit, which is provided at no cost to eligible Covered Drivers, helps provide income protection in the event an eligible Covered Driver is injured outside of work in a covered accident, and is unable to work because of the injury. Eligible drivers can receive payments of up to 70% of their net driving income, up to a maximum of $1,500 per month, for the length of their disability, up to one year!

Unlike with workers’ compensation, however, you MUST be enrolled with Drivers Benefits to be eligible for this benefit. Now more than ever, it’s essential for drivers to enroll in Drivers Benefits and spread the word to fellow drivers. Don’t wait until it’s too late! If you wait until after an injury to enroll in Drivers Benefits, you will not be eligible for Accident Disability Insurance for that injury.

To enroll, please visit ny.driversbenefits.org. More importantly, I encourage everyone to learn more about the Accident Disability Insurance Plan, including eligibility requirements and more details, at https://ny.driversbenefits.org/benefits/accident-disability-insurance-plan/.

This month, we will also be launching a new Personal Accident Insurance benefit so keep an eye on our social media channels to find out when it’s live! I’ll also provide more information in next month’s column.

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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