In May, Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed members to a variety of Sector Advisory Councils – including a Surface Transportation Council – with the goal of “inform[ing] the Administration’s efforts to restart the economy and city life…. [to] serve as critical links to disseminate information about re-opening and provide guidance to shape the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“These councils will provide real world guidance to ensure our plans to reopen the city make sense and keep people safe,” explained the Mayor. “We are facing an unprecedented crisis, but by working together, we will come out stronger than before.”

Under normal circumstances, I would rightly be suspicious of the efficacy of council like this for the ground transportation industry. Attempts in the past to engage industry leaders have largely fallen flat. However, I was able to get a peek at some of the recommendations the council has been discussing – thanks to a Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC) newsletter – and I have to say I’m very impressed.

I will remain skeptical until some of these measures are actually put in place, but a lot of the ideas are genuinely sound, and the industry – which was deemed “essential” at the pandemic’s peak – deserves a break. Quite a few breaks, in fact.

It should be noted that the recommendations resulted from discussions between City Council, the Taxi & Limousine Commission and the members of the Surface Transportation Council, which includes leaders from all segments of the industry, along with a variety of experts and advocates. According to the BCAC, their president, Diana Clemente and executive director, Ira Goldstein were among those that offered input for the list of recommendations below.

“It is still unclear when and in what form these recommendations might be finalized or announced,” noted the BCAC’s Goldstein. “It could be in the form of a press release, a report, or it may directly lead to the relevant agencies or the NYC Council enacting new laws or policies.”

Ensuring Driver and Passenger Safety

  • The TLC is advising that the Council continues upholding mask requirements for passengers and TLC drivers, noting exemptions for people with disabilities unable to wear masks. (The TLC has not decided how to enforce refusals based on a passenger not wearing a mask.)
  • The TLC is advising that the City distribute PPE kits to drivers.
  • The TLC is advising entering into partnerships with car washes for deep cleaning of vehicles.
  • The TLC recommended continuing temporarily approved partitions in FHVs and will continue to expand its list of approved installers.
  • The TLC is recommending the City implement shared-ride passenger limits when the executive order banning shared rides is lifted, as well as providing guidance on open windows for airflow and limiting recirculated air.
  • The TLC is recommending the City work with Port Authority to ensure airport facilities are safe and clean and advocating for Access-a-Ride and e-pilot expansion.
  • The TLC is recommending a temporary restriction on any passengers sitting in the front row.

Communication to Drivers and the Public

  • The TLC is recommending implementing PSAs discouraging personal car use and promoting transportation alternatives. Through these PSAs, Taxis and FHVs will be marketed as “the safe” ride option.
  • The TLC is recommending the City provide outreach and training for TLC licensees on new safety and cleaning protocols and then update the outreach and training for drivers on sharing the road safely.
  • The TLC is recommending the City inform drivers of COVID-19 testing availability.

Congestion and Curb Management

  • The TLC is recommending the City solicit input from its regulated industries when developing citywide congestion mitigation strategies and evaluate the feasibility of a park-and-ride program.
  • The TLC is recommending the City evaluate viability for allowing Taxis and FHVs to use bus lanes and advocate for full implementation of congestion pricing.
  • The TLC is recommending the City expand multi-use loading zones and implement pick-up and drop-off zones for Taxis and FHVs.
  • The TLC is recommending the City evaluate existing Taxi and FHV stands and advocate for using tax-free commuter benefits for Taxis and FHVs.
  • The TLC is recommending the City develop and standardize data exchanges across modes in NYC.

Trip Surcharge and Fees

  • The TLC will advocate for a temporary pause or redistribution of the congestion surcharge to benefit drivers.
  • The TLC will advocate for change in Taxi and FHV congestion surcharge borders.
  • The TLC will advocate for the delay, cancelation or redistribution of the Port Authority Airport fee.
  • The TLC will advocate for standardizing fees for all trips for people with disabilities. This was clarified to mean that some trips qualify for the congestion surcharge and others do not, depending on the means of the accessibility request.

It’s a solid list for sure, and the City Council and TLC Chair Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk deserve credit, not only for listening to the industry but moving forward with common sense ideas. Let’s hope they go into effect ASAP.

TLC Approved Partition Installer Update

As the TLC continues allowing FHVs the opportunity to have temporary partitions installed, it is also expanding its list of approved installers, as many of the companies on the list are booked up for weeks on end.

Click Here to view a list of TLC-approved installers. This list will grow as more installers are adding in the coming weeks and months.

According to Berj Haroutunian, President of Vital Transportation in Long Island City, NY, a week before Phase 2 went into effect in late June, his company began fielding calls from customers inquiring about protocols for disinfecting vehicles and keeping passengers safe. Quite a few asked about partitions.

“We’ve never really gotten calls like this in the past, but quite a few of the drivers who work with us have started getting them installed,” explains Haroutunian.

“We have definitely seen an uptick in the number calls from drivers looking to have partitions installed in their vehicles,” adds Michael Bednark, Founder of Bednark Studio Inc. (www.builtbybednark.com), a Brooklyn-based company that performs installations. “We are recommending that people who want to make an appointment for an install do so as soon as possible, as the new phases of reopening NYC lift restrictions and more people start looking to hire rides.”

Vaccines

I was recently reading that food trade groups are pushing for early access to a vaccine, once it is developed and made available to the public, even though a vaccine is still likely at least months away from being ready, possibly longer. In the meantime, I think it would be a great idea for our industry to lobby for the same kind of early access – particularly since drivers were considered essential workers at the height of the pandemic in the city and proved that they are indeed essential.

No More Optical

I’m sad to say that the “optical benefit” that has been offered to member-drivers of The New York Black Car Fund will no longer be available, which means no more free eye exams and glasses. The Fund is always looking for new ways to help drivers, but not enough of them participated in the program. I would encourage all Black Car drivers to take a closer look at all of the benefits available at no charge to them, along with the discounts afforded to them… and use them. That’s what they are there for, but some of them can end up being shelved if people don’t participate.

This obviously has nothing to do with the Workers’ Compensation benefits the Fund provides. Those are set in stone, but when The Fund offers additional benefits at no additional cost, it saddens me when drivers don’t take full advantage of them. There truly is nothing else like The Fund anywhere, for Independent Contractor drivers.

Before I sign off, I want to encourage ALL TLC-regulated drivers to remain vigilant about cleaning and safety protocols as NYC continues to open in phases. FHVs and Taxis are being hailed by experts as the safest form of transport – but the public needs to feel confident that every imaginable precaution is being taken seriously, if we want to see the industry bounce back in a significant way any time soon.

Until next month… Stay well, stay safe, stay strong!11

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Article by Neil Weiss

Neil Weiss is the Editor/Publisher/Owner of Black Car News and Livery Times. He has been involved in the ground transportation industry since 1991, writing thousands of articles on a wide variety of subjects.

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