As July was coming to a close, the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) released a long-awaited report detailing just how bad our industry has been affected by Covid-19. Although no one who has been paying attention should have been surprised, the stats were pretty grim.
The TLC report can be viewed by clicking here.
It’s disheartening to be this far into a pandemic, and still face so many obstacles – but with global travel restrictions still in place, many executives continuing to work from home and most of the city’s attractions and venues that generate rides either partially or completely shuttered, it’s time for the city to step up and help an industry it badly hurt through its actions and inactions, prior to this devastating situation.
NYC & Company, the firm the city pays tens of millions of dollars each year to boost tourism, also released a 50-page plan in July. Perhaps I’m over-simplifying the report’s findings, but it seemed like – when you boiled it down – their big plan was more “day trips.” That simply isn’t going to cut it.
A third, separate document, which was informally drafted by the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, in collaboration with something called “the COVID-19 Recovery Kitchen Cabinet,” only has a single paragraph in its 24 pages pertaining directly to our industry – and I’m still trying to figure out what they intend to do with the following observation: “It is clear that the taxi industry cannot survive as currently structured: overvalued yellow taxi medallions were already crushing owners prior to the crisis; the rideshare market has exacerbated congestion; and the new risk of exposure will further dampen and disrupt the industry. Yet for-hire vehicles are needed to support economic recovery and tourism. There is an opportunity to create a new taxi industry that would integrate taxis, rideshare platforms, and possibly MTA Access-A-Ride under a regulated, technology-enabled market. This will require restructuring of medallion debt and cooperation from the rideshare industry, yet providers such as Lyft were already thinking of their routing systems as a point-to-point network.”
The TLC’s report matches up pretty well with what I’m hearing in conversations with industry leaders, base owners and drivers – it showed that by early April, a few weeks into the citywide shutdown, taxi and for-hire vehicle trips decreased by 84% compared with the previous month. By April, only 26% of the TLC’s regulated drivers were still picking up fares.
According to the TLC report, in January, there were 11,435 yellow and green cabs on the road. That number dropped to 2,193 in April – increasing slightly to 2,965 drivers in June. As far as FHV drivers, there were 79,289 FHV drivers in January, and that number dropped to 22,527 in April. By June, it edged up to a little over 30,000 FHV drivers.
While the city moves at a glacial pace to help our struggling industry, base owners and industry leaders are trying to help rebuild confidence among clients and drivers. The first step, according to Skyline Credit Ride president, George Potter, is showing people just how seriously his company is taking the virus. Skyline recently posted videos on their website (www.skylineride.com) showing the safety and disinfecting protocols they introduced in recent months.
“The videos demonstrate the cleaning procedures recommended by experts,” notes Potter. “We also make sure there is plenty of personal protection equipment available for our drivers and clients, including masks and hand sanitizers.”
“Almost half of our drivers have had partitions installed recently,” adds Joseph Lazo, Skyline’s vice president. “A lot of our clients started asking for them, so we’ve made it an option when someone books a ride.”
In addition to a rise in customer requests for partitions, Avik Kabessa, president of Carmel says a lot of clients were asking general questions about his company’s disinfecting and safety protocols – so he established a “customer-driver behavior” program, which includes masks for drivers and clients alike.
“We minimize contact by asking clients to allow our drivers to open and close all doors and the trunk, and if they are physically able, we ask that they load their own luggage,” explains Kabessa. “We also recommend they keep the car windows open, if the weather allows, and that everyone keep conversations to a minimum. If a driver has to convey something to a client using their voice, they should continue looking straight ahead and not turn toward them when they speak.”
“Our industry has been through a tremendous amount in the past couple of decades,” says Gena Avishay, president of Alpine Limousine. “We learned a lot getting through 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the Great Recession, but nothing could have fully prepared us for a pandemic – so we take things one day at a time. At this point, the best emergency plan is to stay vigilant regarding your health and make sure to follow all disinfecting procedures, until we get a vaccine.”
“It’s important that people remember that chauffeurs are the backbone of this industry,” agrees Brittany Avishay, Alpine’s vice president. “I commend the men and women who drove medical professionals, even during the worst parts of the pandemic, waking up every day and braving New York City streets, even when it was the epicenter.”
Looking forward, I can only hope the city steps up quickly and implements some long-term solutions to save the bases devastated by the pandemic, and to show their appreciation for the drivers who put their lives on the line to help bring the city back from the brink. We can all see the challenges the industry is up against. Now it’s time for action.