Hello to all! I hope everyone is staying warm. Between torrential rain, snow, and freezing cold, January was certainly a tough month.

In my last column, I gave you an update on congestion pricing after the Traffic Mobility Review Board (TMRB) issued their final report  with recommendations for the tolling structure, which was ultimately approved by Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Board. Since this approval, we have been in a public comment period that will be capped off with a series of public hearings in late February and March.

It seems that the MTA’s approval of the TMRB’s recommendations kicked a lot of groups into action. I mentioned last month that there had been an increased push for yellow taxis to be completely exempt. However, since then, several other groups have gone as far as to file federal lawsuits to stop the plan from going through.

For example, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) joined Staten Island Borough President Vito Fossella in filing a federal suit against the MTA, as well as the federal, state, and city departments of transportation. They argue that rather than improving air quality and traffic, the congestion pricing plan would simply shift the traffic to the outer boroughs where UFT members and their students live. They go on to argue that the plan will disproportionately burden public-sector workers who commute to Manhattan, as well as inflict environmental and economic damage to the outer boroughs like Staten Island.

Long story short, the UFT and Staten Borough President are seeking a credit for drivers going over the Verazzano-Narrows Bridge. The clamoring for exemptions and credits is likely the main motivation behind these lawsuits, which have little to no chance of succeeding. Rather, they will be used as leverage and bargaining chips for exemptions, which has led to concern in our industry. We also expect more lawsuits to be filed in the coming weeks.

For every exemption that is granted, that money needs to be made up somewhere else. At the end of the day, the for-hire vehicle (FHV) industry is an easy target and I am very concerned that if any exemptions or crossing credits are granted, it will be the FHV industry that is looked at to cover the revenue shortfall.

This is why I will be submitting testimony during the public comment period, focused on preserving the tolling structure that was recommended by the TMRB. I believe that their recommendations are fair and treat the ground transportation sector with near equal parity.

Moving on to other news, you may recall that back in November the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) filed a lawsuit against the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) after the TLC opened up applications for new licenses for electric vehicles (EVs). A NY Supreme Court Judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) that stopped the TLC from accepting applications for new EV licenses.

In a brief filing in January, the Judge is allowing more time for further arguments from both the TLC and the NYTWA. The matter was adjourned to February 14th so it appears that this date would be the earliest that the TLC would be able to resume taking applications for EV plates. Of course, that would also depend on what the Judge decides to do at that time. We will continue monitoring this situation and update you next month.

On a final note, those of you on our email lists received an email from myself and our Executive Chairman, Berj Haroutunian in January. Our message was focused on our goal for 2024; making sure that every eligible driver is enrolled in our Drivers Benefits program.

In the past year we’ve added some truly incredible benefits that can help protect you financially in the event that you’re injured or die while NOT working, or develop a critical illness. However, you MUST be enrolled in the program in order to be eligible for these benefits.

As most of you know, there were some drivers who passed away last year due in tragic accidents both on and off the job. For those drivers that died off the job and were enrolled in Drivers Benefits, we were able to help their families claim the $100,000 Accidental Death benefit included in the Drivers Benefits program. While, of course, this in no way reduces the impact of the personal losses being endured by these families, we are honored to have been able to help lessen the financial burden by providing this benefit.

My point again is, please make sure that you and any other drivers you know are enrolled in our Drivers Benefits program. It’s absolutely free to join and all the benefits are provided at no-cost to you!

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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