A couple days after what seemed like a very productive City Council hearing in November, I checked in with some of the leaders of the Black Car and Livery industries. I was still feeling pretty optimistic.
After all, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Transportation Committee, showed support for the “restricted” licenses traditional For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) bases had been proposing for more than six months. He even held a rally outside City Hall just prior to the hearing, calling on the [Taxi & Limousine Commission] to “correct a loophole in the current for-hire vehicles regulations, which is killing the City’s [traditional FHV bases]… to amend the For-Hire Vehicle licensing regulations and across-the-board cap, so that drivers lost to retirement, career change and other common causes could be replaced.”
This would help traditional FHV bases regain some of the ground lost to unfair competition created when app-based services descended on NYC some years ago.
Councilmembers and the TLC also said they want to form an FHV Task Force, specifically representing traditional bases. The top priority for this new task force, of course, would be the restricted licenses, which would only be available for FHVs affiliated with a traditional Black Car, Livery or Luxury Limousine base – but not app-based services, which have shown a propensity to over-hire, which is the reason the cap was introduced in the first place.
At the hearing, Rodriguez even mentioned a bill he planned to introduce to create the new category of licenses in the coming weeks. It’s no secret that the industry is in crisis, and the restricted licenses would go a long way towards preventing more suffering. Many businesses are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, a lot of bases have already gone under and drivers are struggling to feed their families.
FHV industry leaders submitted a draft of a restricted license bill months ago, so whether Rodriguez worked off of that framework to create his own bill or the TLC made whatever minor adjustments to it they deemed necessary to create a new rule, things were looking up.
Except now I’m hearing it could take another six months to become a reality, and there’s no guarantee it will happen at all. Within days of the meeting, there were suddenly concerns the restricted licenses could hurt the City in existing and potential lawsuits – including ones brought by the High-Volume FHV companies, questioning the City’s authority to implement the initial FHV license cap.
This is unacceptable. Nobody said it would be easy, but either the TLC or City Council needs to step up and help correct a serious problem that they both played a big part in creating. Don’t let the fear of a lawsuit get in the way of doing the right thing and promulgating a good policy, one that could literally save lives.
There are, of course, details to iron out. There has yet to be a consensus on how the restricted licenses will work – whether they will be granted based on a percentage of fleet size, if it will be a flat number, or there will be some other metric to decide how many will be made available and who will get them. The wheels of government often turn very slowly, but a framework already exists, so this can be done quickly. We just need a little courage and the will do to the right thing.
Employees or Independent Contractors?
Meanwhile, the longstanding classification for NYC drivers as Independent Contractors (ICs) is being threatened. New Jersey, which uses the same test to determine whether someone is an employee or an IC, is claiming Uber is misclassifying their drivers, and hit the company with a $650 million bill for unpaid employment taxes and fines ($523 million in unemployment and disability insurance taxes for 2014-2018 and another $119 million in penalties and interest).
Leaders of the Black Car and Livery segments of the industry are requesting an exemption from any legislation that might force NYC drivers to be classified as employees, citing the industry’s history and the many benefits and workers’ comp insurance drivers receive through organizations like the New York Black Car Fund.
Sign Up for Your Free Benefits!
Speaking of benefits, a bill is still sitting on Gov. Cuomo’s desk that will provide even more benefits to drivers in the Black Car Fund, but more drivers need to sign up for the ones already available to them. SIGN UP TODAY for your FREE FLU SHOTS, get a FREE EYE EXAM & GLASSES, use the FREE TELEMEDICINE PROGRAM and enjoy discount prescriptions! EARN MONEY by attending wellness and defensive driving classes. The governor said he wants to be sure the benefits that are already in place are actually helping people – and they absolutely are, when people take advantage of them.
For more information, contact the Black Car Fund today by calling 212.269.4800 or visit www.nybcf.org. Please take a moment of your time to find out what is available to you for free, just because you are a member of the Black Car Fund.