Hello to all! It’s hard to believe how quickly summer came and went. August was a very busy month and there are some exciting events happening in September so I’ll just jump right into it.

The congestion pricing issue continued to be at the forefront throughout August. The Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB) held their second meeting in mid-August and the New York City Council also held an oversight hearing on congestion pricing.

The TMRB meeting in August was a follow-up to their first meeting in July. In July’s meeting, TMRB members asked the MTA for more information on a number of topics relevant to their decision-making process with regard to the tolling structure. In August’s meeting, the TMRB members were presented with information on five specific topics. These include crossing credits, varying rates for trucks, a per-ride surcharge for taxis and FHVs, low-income drivers traveling to the Central Business District (CBD), and different tolling periods to accommodate overnight workers.

The information provided suggested that providing crossing credits will ultimately raise the base toll rate that most cars would pay, while varying charges on trucks based on their size could slightly decrease the rate. Regarding low-income drivers, TMRB members expressed concern that they, along with blue-collar drivers, were still being overlooked.

With regard to taxis and FHVs, while I’m glad that a per-ride surcharge seems likely to be implemented, I am very concerned about the exemption being considered for yellow cabs. If yellows are granted an exemption, while FHVs aren’t, this would be a clear case of government picking winners and losers. While traditional black car bases may not feel a major impact, the rest of the black car industry is absolutely going to see a decrease in work.

At the hearing, the MTA presented that Uber trips increased even after the $2.75 congestion surcharge was implemented in 2019. Even Charles Komanoff, a well respected transportation analyst, who no one would consider an Uber/Lyft advocate, felt it was important to fact check this claim. TLC data shows that the rise of Uber trips stopped and reversed slightly after the surcharge was implemented. There is no doubt that an increased surcharge will lead to trip loss, and this could be further fueled if taxis are exempt and FHVs end up carrying the weight.

It’s concerning to see the TMRB considering a policy that would drive business away from FHVs to taxis when taxi drivers are not covered by The Black Car Fund and do not receive the critical safety net of health and wellness benefits we provide.

Lastly, the MTA failed to recognize the issue of the utilization rate required for companies like Uber & Lyft. They must maintain a 53% utilization rate, a requirement that does not exist for yellows. If the rate drops below 53%, which is likely if taxis get an exemption, then fares will skyrocket, further driving business from FHVs to taxis. These companies may be forced to meet the TLC mandated utilization rate by limiting driver hours or deactivating them. Our position stands that a per-trip toll should not disproportionately affect FHV drivers. There must be parity among all ground transportation sectors.

The MTA will likely now put together more in-depth scenarios that take into account various considerations and then the TMRB will reconvene for a third meeting. No specific date has been announced yet, but it does appear likely that it’ll take place sooner than later.

These concerns I mentioned were all included in our testimony to the New York City Council during their oversight hearing on congestion pricing. We also reiterated our support for the Independent Drivers Guild’s position that there should be an additional $1.00 per trip fee added to the existing $2.75 surcharge, to be paid by passengers. We have supported the goals of congestion pricing since the beginning, but we cannot allow these goals to be met at the expense of thousands of livelihoods.

I encourage everyone to take a look at the presentation from the last TMRB meeting and keep an eye out for the announcement of the next one and make your voice heard.

Moving onto some TLC news, a hearing is scheduled for September 20th for the proposed “Green Rides Initiative”. This initiative would require high-volume for-hire services (HVFHSs), such as Uber and Lyft, to have fleets comprised entirely of either zero-emission vehicles such as electric vehicles (EVs) or wheelchair accessible vehicles (WAVs) in New York City by 2030. This is likely going to be a contentious hearing with many varying opinions, so I encourage everyone to watch it.

Before I wrap up, there are a couple of events in September that I want to make everyone aware of. First, on September 5th, outside of the Falchi building (location of TLC’s Licensing Division) in Long Island City, Revel, Uber and Lyft will be hosting a health fair for drivers. You’ll likely have heard of this event by the time you’re reading this, but I’m happy to let you know that BCF will be participating in this event. Our Vision Van will be on site to perform eye exams and provide glasses to drivers, and we will also have an outreach team there to speak with drivers about all of the benefits we provide.

Secondly, I’m excited to announce that The Black Car Fund will also be holding an event for drivers and Member Bases on Thursday, September 14, from 10am to 3pm at our Driver Education Center located at 3710 Skillman Avenue, Long Island City, NY 11101. This will be a great opportunity for drivers to speak with us directly about any questions they may have, whether it’s about claims, our Earn While You Learn opportunities, or any of the numerous benefits we provide to Covered Drivers at no-cost. We will also be having other partners there providing other health related services and information, and there will be a lot of free giveaways to drivers who attend. Please keep an eye on our social media and your emails for more information on the event. Please note, there will be a limited number of parking spots available that will be first come first served. Due to space limitations, we’re asking that drivers RSVP to the event! We may not be able to accommodate walk-ins!

On a final note, I am humbled and honored to be recognized again in City & State’s Transportation Power 100, along with Matt Daus, former TLC Commissioner who I was Chief of Staff under. Nowadays, we work together on various transportation issues. His deep experience in transportation regulation, as well as New York City government is an asset and his inclusion in this list is well-earned.

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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