Hello to all! May was a beautiful but incredibly busy month. As we move into the summer months, things are only going to get busier. I have a lot of information to cover this month with you all, so let’s jump right into it!

In May, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (PANYNJ) held a massive online meeting where they announced and presented the changes they have planned for for-hire vehicle (FHV) pickups at JFK Airport. As you know, JFK is undergoing a massive redevelopment and particularly at Terminals 1 and 5, there will be major changes.

To quickly summarize, at Terminal 5, FHVs will no longer be able to pick up passengers at the curbside. Pickup operations will be relocated to the roof of the Orange Garage, which will have a dedicated FHV entrance and FHV drivers will not be charged to enter or exit the garage. Passengers will have to take the AirTrain from Terminal 5 to Terminal 7, and then proceed to the garage to meet their driver. The PANYNJ estimates that it will take passengers about 15 minutes to complete the trip.

At Terminal 1, pickups will also no longer be allowed at the terminal curb, but rather will be relocated to a remote parking lot just south of the West Cell Lot. Passengers will be shuttled from Terminal 1 to the remote lot. Due to the proximity of the remote lot to the West Cell Lot, drivers are being encouraged to wait at the West Cell lot and will be prioritized for picking up passengers at the remote lot.

While drop-offs at both Terminal 1 and 5 will still be allowed, these changes will be destructive to the black car industry. Yellow cabs aren’t being relocated, so why would a passenger put themselves through a 15-minute travel ordeal, with all their luggage, to get to an FHV when they can access a cab at the curb? For high-end clientele, these changes are even worse because they completely remove the “high-end” factor from the experience. We are working closely with other stakeholders to address these concerns with the PANYNJ and we are hopeful that our discussions will result in some degree of continued access to the curb at these terminals. I hope to have a positive update on this next month.

The PANYNJ provided a PowerPoint presentation with a lot of details and graphics outlining the changes. Click here to read the full PowerPoint presentation from the Port Authority: https://files.constantcontact.com/f6e7cd74801/84dd981e-6eda-4d32-a3a0-f13c17d073cf.pdf. If you have any difficulties accessing it, you can email us at info@nybcf.org and we’ll email you a copy!

Moving on to congestion pricing, The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued its Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the environmental assessment for congestion pricing, granting a near-final approval for the tolls, with new requirements outlined in the MTA’s final version of the environmental assessment. The final environmental assessment will be open for public review for 30 days.

The exact toll prices are yet to be determined, but as you know, the MTA is considering seven scenarios ranging from $5 to $23, with variations based on vehicle type and time of day.

The tolling implementation will take at least 310 days, with the installation of tolling infrastructure and E-ZPass readers across Manhattan. The FHWA mandates that taxis, Ubers, and Lyfts can only be charged once per day, regardless of the number of times they cross in and out of the zone. The fact that taxis are also being charged once a day is actually a good thing. It’s almost a certainty that taxis will call for a fare increase to offset the congestion toll and if they get it, it means other FHVs can also charge more.

However, we will continue to advocate for the surcharge to be issued on a per-trip basis, rather than once per day so that the burden doesn’t fall on drivers. We want to see the surcharge kept as low as possible and applied equally throughout the ground transportation sector. Ultimately, when there is a final decision, we may need to explore our legal options.

Also in May, the TLC was hit with a lawsuit over their plans to re-issue up to 2,500 unused Street Hail Livery (SHL) vehicle licenses. These licenses will go to a new category of vehicle called the “Pilot SHL,” and these vehicles will only be allowed to operate outside the exclusionary zone and only on pre-arranged trips, not street hails. This plan was announced with almost no advance notice, and the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) was incensed by this plan, citing concerns of enforcement and its effect on the yellow cab industry.

In court papers filed last month, the NYTWA charges that the TLC’s proposal to create a new type of FHV license – for rides that cannot be hailed on the street – is “in direct conflict with state law, which defines SHLs by their essential characteristic: their ability to be hailed on the street like a taxi.” NYTWA also contends that with the addition of more vehicles, the pilot program will cut into raises drivers received in March, their first in nearly a decade.

To be frank, it does appear the TLC may have overstepped here with this pilot program, and the NYTWA lawsuit may have some merit. It remains to be seen how it plays out in the courts.

Before I move on to the news that I’m most excited about, there are a couple of items I want to make sure you’re all aware of. During the peak of the pandemic, anyone whose NY State license expired between March 2020 and August 2021 was allowed to renew their license by self-certifying their vision tests online. Now, the DMV is saying that these drivers are still required to pass vision tests in the near future in order to avoid a suspension of their license.

If your license expired between 3/1/2020 and 8/31/2021, and you renewed online by self-certifying your vision but have not submitted a vision test to DMV, your license is at risk of imminent suspension.

So, what should you do if you fall into this group? The DMV states you can take a vision test from an approved provider who will automatically send the results to the DMV. You can also have a vision exam completed by your own provider and have them fill out the DMV Vision Test Report yourself.

Secondly, the TLC created an FHV License Storage Program to give relief to vehicle license holders during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. As conditions have eased and trip volumes continue to rebound, the TLC is ending this program.

The vehicle storage program will end on August 31, 2023, and vehicle license holders with a license in storage have until that day to remove their license from storage. Failure to remove the license(s) from storage will result in the loss of the license. If you have a vehicle license in storage now and you are ready to remove your For-Hire Vehicle License from storage, instructions can be found at: https://www.nyc.gov/site/tlc/vehicles/for-hire-vehicle.page.

As we wrap up, I’m very excited to announce that the benefits we provide to our Covered Drivers are continuing to grow and expand. First, Covered Drivers who file a workers’ compensation claim for an injury that occurs after May 15, 2023, will be receiving a tax-free minimum indemnity payment of $300, based on an average weekly wage of $450. In 2022, we increased this pay from $166.67 to $216.67, and now we have raised it again to $300. This is nearly double the $166.67 that drivers were receiving just a little over a year ago.

We are also excited to announce that our Accident Disability Plan will be receiving a significant boost to its minimum payment and maximum age eligibility, as well as the addition of a substantial death benefit. In addition to that, we’re also going to be introducing an entirely new Critical Illness Benefit, which will provide lump sum payments to drivers who experience covered illnesses.

Look out for more news about this in the next edition! 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).

See All Articles