Transportation Guru Matt Daus (center left of Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers) joins leaders of the NYC for-hire ground transportation industry.  Pictured from left-to right: Pat Russo (Windels Marx), James Carroll (City Livery Leasing), Jose Altamirano (Livery Base Owners), Ira Goldstein (Black Car Fund), Hector Ricketts (Commuter Van Association of New York), Wayne Ackerman (Buggy), Matt Daus, Selvena Brooks-Powers, Avik Kabessa (Carmel Car & Limo Service), Peter Carnival, Travis Ricketts (Community Transportation Systems), Tahir Gill (NuRide Transportation), and Misba Abdin (Deshi Transportation).

New NYC Council Transportation Committee Chair Is on the Move & Shaking Things Up!

First elected in a special election in February 2021, Council Member Selvena N. Brooks-Powers represents Southeast Queens and eastern Rockaway in the New York City Council. After her re-election in November 2021, she entered the current NYC Council session as the Majority Whip, and has been selected to be the Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. I have had numerous meetings with Council Member Brooks-Powers, who has asked me for my advice and an orientation from my perspective on various mobility issues in NYC and beyond. I have gotten to know her quite well, and continue to be impressed with her energy, insight, and hands-on approach.

Of the many impressive qualities, ideas, and policy priorities of Chair Brooks-Powers that I noticed, was not just her commitment to equity and solving problems, but her keen desire to experience mobility first-hand. She started her tenure with a 5-borough tour of all modes, to identify the challenges and success stories of our transportation ecosystem.

This approach is refreshing, to rely on one’s own experiential impressions to inform and supplement the views of stakeholders and policy analysts. Needless to say, after some time spent researching, traveling around the city, and thinking, Chair Brooks-Powers has come out of the box with new approaches to mobility, and with common senses positions thus far. I can tell that she listens and is open to learning, and those qualities are so important in terms of removing oneself from politics and making decisions for all New Yorkers that are independent, objective and thoughtful. I, for one, have high hopes for her tenure, and look forward to working with her and assisting her any way I can.

Transportation Guru Matt Daus (center left of Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers) joins leaders of the NYC for-hire ground transportation industry.  Pictured from left-to right: Pat Russo (Windels Marx), James Carroll (City Livery Leasing), Jose Altamirano (Livery Base Owners), Ira Goldstein (Black Car Fund), Hector Ricketts (Commuter Van Association of New York), Wayne Ackerman (Buggy), Matt Daus, Selvena Brooks-Powers, Avik Kabessa (Carmel Car & Limo Service), Peter Carnival, Travis Ricketts (Community Transportation Systems), Tahir Gill (NuRide Transportation), and Misba Abdin (Deshi Transportation).

Our NYC Council Transportation Committee Chair’s Career Background & Perspectives

Before taking elected office, Brooks-Powers held numerous positions in government and labor. A lifelong resident of Southeast Queens, as a teen, Brooks-Powers volunteered for New York City Public Advocate Mark Green. She went on to intern with the New York State Senate and later served as press secretary to the NYS Senate Majority Conference Leader before her promotion to the role of Deputy Chief of Staff. In 2012, she joined the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as Northeast Communications Director. Brooks-Powers also helped mobilize and ultimately unionized co-workers under the United Media Guild of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), where she was elected delegate for the northeast region. In 2013, she entered a special election for the New York City Council, running on the “Rebuild Now” platform, which called for infrastructure investments in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

While Brooks-Powers did not win the 2013 election, her successful February 2021 campaign to replace Councilmember Donovan Richards – who left the City Council when he was elected Queens Borough President – led to her being appointed Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. She succeeds Hon. Ydanis Rodriguez as chair of the committee, who now serves as the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation (“DOT”) in the administration of Mayor Eric Adams.

In addition to chairing the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Brooks-Powers was also appointed Majority Whip by Council Speaker Adrienne Adams. A whip is a political party official whose primary task is to ensure the fellow political party legislators vote according to the party platform. In the New York City Council, the Majority Whip is a key leadership position in the Council, and works closely with the Speaker and Majority Leader.

The Transportation Committee has jurisdiction over New York City’s mass transportation agencies and facilities, including the DOT and the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC), and will conduct oversight hearings concerning the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA).

In the short time that she has led the Transportation Committee, Brooks-Powers has already staked out positions on significant transportation issues involving New York City, such as transportation equity. Brooks-Powers has also become a thought leader on issues that have attracted the nation’s media interest, like congestion pricing. Other issues that are on the Committee’s front burner include the TLC. The Committee recently held an oversight hearing on the state of the TLC’s regulated industries and passed a resolution calling on New York State to enact legislation to allow commuter vans to accept street hails. Given the Committee’s purview, Brooks-Powers will have the potential to bring other issues to the table, such as the expanded role of electric vehicles, congestion pricing, and the JFK Airport Redevelopment Project. These topics – and others – are discussed in more detail below.

Brooks-Powers’ First TLC Oversight Hearing: State of the TLC’s Regulated Industries

On October 13, 2022, Brooks-Powers led her first TLC oversight hearing on the state of its regulated industries, including taxis, for-hire vehicles (FHVs), and commuter vans. The hearing focused largely on TLC Chair David Do, who addressed the proposed commuter van resolution and commented on the TLC’s planned release of 1,000 new FHV licenses for electric vehicles (EV), the TLC’s electrification plan, the Uber-Taxi partnership, the Taxi Medallion Owner Relief Program (MRP) and the supplemental medallion loan guaranty program (MRP+), among other issues that fall under the Transportation Committee’s purview. Below is a recap of the testimony and questioning on these major issues.

For Hire Vehicle (FHV) Permits for Electric Vehicles (EVs)

On October 4, 2022, the TLC issued its semi-annual report on the FHV license cap, stating that the agency has decided that it will issue up to 1,000 new FHV licenses, all of which will be restricted to use with EVs. During his testimony, Chair Do talked about the 1,000 new FHV licenses for EVs, the only new FHV permits that TLC is planning to make available. Commissioner Do testified that TLC is currently determining the requirements and application process, and more information will be available in early December. At this time, the TLC is planning for a 60/40 split, with 600 licenses being made available to individual owner-drivers, and 400 licenses to “spur additional infrastructure.”

Rumors had been swirling for months about what this new issuance will look like, and how it will be structured. The TLC has been deliberating, and will continue to deliberate, on what this plan will look like, and how it will distribute the permits. The 400 permits are likely to be offered to either bases or corporate permit owners, and are likely not going to be auctioned or subject to a lottery, but may be awarded through some type of application process that could attach conditions. It is important to be prepared for any scenario if you or your company are interested, but now there is more time to get ready as the timeline was just pushed back to late 2022.

TLC’s Electrification Plan & NYC’s Overall EV Plans To-Date

During the oversight hearing, Chair Do said that the TLC is working on a “comprehensive” electrification plan to replace existing internal combustion engine (ICE) FHVs and taxis with EVs. According to Commissioner Do, there are currently only 37 EV taxis, and the TLC needs to “do more.” The plan, he said, would include a broad electrification plan to fast-track infrastructure to support taxis and FHVs. This is in addition to the fast-charging discounts that are being offered to TLC-licensed drivers.

In September, City Hall announced that DOT in partnership with the TLC would offer 15% discounts to TLC-licensed drivers for the use of fast charging hubs at the Court Square Municipal Garage in Queens and the Delancey-Essex Municipal Garage in Manhattan. Additional charging stations are supposed to be opening soon.

Mayor Eric Adams announced the TLC-DOT partnership during Climate Week, along with milestones in critical EV efforts to accelerate and facilitate the transition to EVs among the city’s vehicle fleet, private vehicles, and the FHV industry. As of September 2022, the New York City Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) had already reached its goal of transitioning 4,000 vehicles in the City fleet to EVs by 2025. In addition, DOT is advancing projects to install publicly accessible EV charging stations in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Uber’s Partnership with Taxis

In late March 2022, Uber announced a partnership with taxi-hailing companies Curb and Arro app to make yellow taxis available on the Uber platform. Fares are based on Uber’s pricing and policies, and the app displays an up-front price to the riders. The company says that riders will pay roughly the same price for a taxi as they would for UberX rides.

Before accepting a trip referral from Uber, taxi drivers will see an up-front earnings estimate for the trip and can choose to accept or reject the request. At the Transportation Committee hearing, when asked about the TLC’s involvement in, and plans for, this partnership, Chair Do explained that the companies are operating under the TLC’s existing e-hail pilot, and that TLC will be evaluating the program’s success based on data from participants.

MRP and MRP+

In response to the debt crisis in the taxi medallion industry, the City announced the creation of a $65 million Taxi Medallion Owner Relief Program (MRP) in September 2021. The goal of MRP is to allow medallion owners with fewer than five medallions to restructure loans, reduce principal amounts, and lower monthly payments. Under the MRP, eligible participants receive up to a $20,000 down payment to help restructure medallion-related loans and up to $9,000 in additional monthly debt payment assistance for owners able to demonstrate specific hardships.

The Supplemental Loan Deficiency Guaranty, referred to as MRP+, offers a grant of $30,000 and a loan guaranty for lenders on renegotiated loans that are written down to a principal balance no more than $170,000, with up to a 7.3% interest rate, and fully amortized over 25 years. MRP+ does not include monthly debt payment assistance. Program participants receive free legal and financial guidance from the TLC’s Driver Resource Center, which launched in May 2020.

The Administration believes that the MRP could result in a total of $500 million of debt forgiveness for thousands of drivers. In September 2022, the TLC and New York City Mayor Eric Adams along with Senator Charles Schumer and Marblegate Asset Management (the largest medallion lender in NYC) announced that, as a result of MRP and MRP+, more than 1,000 medallion owners closed on restructured loans and received more than $225 million in debt relief.

During the oversight hearing on October 13, Chair Do said that, to date, 1,500 medallion owners have participated in MRP or MRP+ and received a total of $240 million in debt relief. He said that TLC is working with PenFed – the second largest holder of medallion loans – and expects to close on the first loans with that lender in late October or early November. Commissioner Do also stated that the TLC is working to bring all medallion lenders on board with the program, and that the agency is actively reaching out to potentially eligible medallion owners to get them involved.

Congestion Pricing

In comments submitted to the MTA regarding the Environmental Assessment (EA) of the Central Business District (CBD) Tolling Program, Council Member Brooks-Powers raised concerns about the impact that congestion pricing will have on taxicab, livery, and ride-hail drivers. These drivers, Brooks-Powers told the MTA, “have already faced serious economic burdens in recent years and already pay a congestion surcharge on trips below 96th Street. We need to consider the vital contributions these drivers make to our network and set tolls accordingly.”

Brooks-Powers’ district includes communities considered to be transit-deserts: Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, and Springfield Gardens. As a Council Member whose constituents have some of the longest commutes in the City, Brooks-Powers knows firsthand that many “communities lack viable public transportation services to effectively, safely, and reliably travel into Manhattan.”

Brooks-Powers’ concerns are validated in a report I authored, issued by the University Transportation Research Center (UTRC) at The City College of New York, which supports exempting taxis and FHVs from the CBD Tolling Program altogether. In “Equity Impacts of NYC Congestion Pricing on Taxi and For-Hire Vehicle Drivers and Passengers,” my report, which was peer reviewed by congestion pricing/tolling and equity experts/academics, raises significant concerns regarding the equitable distribution of benefits and burdens of congestion pricing on taxi and FHV drivers and passengers. Among the report’s key findings are:

  • Taxi and FHV passengers already contribute their fair share to the MTA through the Congestion Surcharge implemented in February 2019, and subjecting these riders to the CBD Tolling Program is simply a double taxation
  • There is a considerable number of passengers from low-income neighborhoods and/or transit deserts who use FHVs and taxis to enter the Manhattan CBD and who will be disproportionately burdened by the proposed tolls
  • The taxi and FHV industries have not fully recovered from the aftermath of COVID-19, and any drastic fare hike might lead to another wave of job loss for many taxi and FHV drivers
  • The mitigation actions proposed for taxi/FHV drivers in the EA are impractical

Short of a complete exemption, I strongly recommend in the UTRC report that the CBD Tolling Program be paused while an environmental impact statement (EIS) is prepared to address the Program’s impact on low-income drivers and passengers. The report can be accessed at

Cover of UTRC’s “Equity Impacts of NYC Congestion Pricing on Taxi and For-Hire Vehicle Drivers and Passengers”

The TLC also weighed in on the congestion pricing debate during the October 13 NYC Council’s oversight hearing, where Council Member Brooks-Powers questioned TLC Chair Do about the TLC’s position on how taxis and FHVs should be treated under the MTA congestion pricing plan. While Commissioner Do said that he does not want to get ahead of the MTA and Traffic Mobility Review Board (the MTA board that will be recommending tolls), he also noted that the taxi and FHV industry have made considerable contributions to the MTA already. TLC Chair Do said he wants a tolling plan that is equitable for drivers in TLC’s regulated industries.

Transportation Equity – Support for Commuter Vans

One of Chair Brooks-Powers’ expressed top priorities is ensuring transportation equity. She has previously commented that “transportation equity is a major issue in our city that must be confronted,” and that “[i]t is time to reshape the transportation and infrastructure conversation that for too long has left out the outer-boroughs and transportation desert communities.” To that end, she sponsored a resolution at the City Council (Resolution No. 292), calling on New York State to enact S5320, which would amend the New York City Administrative Code to allow commuter vans to accept hails from prospective passengers in the street.

In New York City, commuter vans (sometimes referred to as “dollar vans”) provide an inexpensive means of transportation in areas of New York City that are underserved by taxis, FHVs, and mass transit. Commuter vans have seating capacities of nine to 20 passengers and transport passengers over non-specified or irregular routes between a residential zone and a work-related central location, a mass transit facility, a shopping center, or a recreational facility on a daily basis. Commuter vans may conduct service by prearrangement only and are prohibited from accepting street hails or picking up passengers at bus stops. According to a City Council report, “in many ways these rules do not align with the way commuter vans conduct their business in practice.”

In 2017, the City enacted legislation that removed certain burdens from commuter van operations while implementing a cap on the number of commuter van licenses at 735. The legislative reforms also increased penalties for illegal operators.

Despite TLC and the NYPD enforcement efforts, unlicensed vans remain prevalent. These illegal vans provide the same service as licensed vans, but without the same safeguards, such as proper insurance, vehicle safety inspections, and driver licensing. As a result, the illegal vans operate in a “reckless and dangerous manner while transporting passengers.”

In 2018, the City enacted Local Law 2018/197 giving the TLC additional authority to crack down on illegal van operations by changing the definition of “for-hire vehicle” to include vehicles that seat more than 20 passengers for the purposes of the TLC’s enforcement authority. Without that change, the TLC was powerless to go after vehicles that sat more than 20 passengers.

Before the TLC can approve an application to operate a commuter van service, DOT must make a finding of public convenience and necessity for the proposed geographic area where service would operate. As part of the process, DOT notifies all affected Council Members and Community Boards of the application for the purposes of obtaining their feedback. From 1994–1997, the City Council vetoed 98% of all new commuter van licenses. In June 1999, a crucial victory was handed to the industry when a New York State Court ended the Council’s power to veto licenses approved by the TLC.

While commuter vans supplement the city’s public transit system and provide a vital service to those that live in transit deserts and areas that lack transit options, the numbers of commuter van bases, commuter van drivers, and commuter vans have all decreased dramatically in recent years. According to TLC data, in 2021, there were 28 licensed commuter van bases, 145 licensed commuter van drivers, and just 34 licensed commuter vans. In 2017, there were 55 bases, 238 drivers, and 317 vehicles.

According to the Council report on the Resolution No. 292, some blame the recent decline in commuter vans on “current law limiting TLC-licensed commuter vans by not allowing them to accept hails from prospective passengers in the street.” Under current law, commuter vans may only operate on prearranged basis. Meaning, riders may only make use of the service if they have made arrangements for the service beforehand. S5320, introduced by New York State Senator Kevin Parker, would allow commuter vans to accept hails from prospective passengers in the streets, and would repeal certain related provisions in City law to make that possible. According to the sponsor memo, this would “legitimize how commuter vans operate.” There is a companion bill in the Assembly (A9731). Both bills are still in committee waiting action by their respective legislative body.

During the October 13th Transportation Committee oversight hearing, TLC Chair Do said that TLC supports Resolution 292, and that he wants to work with the commuter van industry to help them with technology and safety enhancements, as well ensuring all van services are licensed. All around, this is a major development and policy shift, at a time when the City should be using this embattled mode to solve problems in the mobility-equity ecosystem. I have long argued that MTA should NOT be fighting with commuter vans, but that the agency should embrace them and use them as an outgrowth of and connector with the public transit system. In addition to allowing them to work the streets legally, there is a real opportunity here, especially with congestion pricing funding, to franchise and/or subsidize these services as a first-and-last-mile micro-transit service in transportation deserts and underserved communities.

JFK’s Airport Redevelopment Project

While the JFK redevelopment project did not come up during the latest Council hearing, it is likely to be a major topic of interest in the future. Immediately before taking elected office in 2021, Brooks-Powers was a manager for M/WBE compliance, external affairs, and community outreach on the $13 billion JFK International Airport Redevelopment Program. In that role, she helped to launch the External Affairs and Community Outreach program. In her platform for office, Brooks-Power said she would continue to collaborate with community and business groups to ensure the Southeast Queens community benefits from the redevelopment, which she sees as an educational pipeline into aviation careers and direct investment into the local economy.

In 2015, a comprehensive plan to construct a completely new LaGuardia Airport (LGA) was unveiled with the goal of creating a world-class, 21st century passenger experience featuring modern customer amenities, state-of-the-art architecture, more spacious gate areas and a unified terminal system. The $8 billion project, two-thirds of which is funded through private financing and existing passenger fees, broke ground in 2016.

LaGuardia Airport is being transformed into a unified airport with new terminals, better transportation access, additional airside taxiways, and best-in-class passenger amenities. Led by LaGuardia Gateway Partners (LGP), the $4 billion LaGuardia Terminal B project is the largest public-private partnership in U.S. aviation history. The redevelopment included a 3,000-car parking garage, and new covered passenger pick-up facilities for both taxis and ridesharing vehicles.

The challenges that the JFK Redevelopment Program seeks to address fall into five broad areas: 1) terminals and their configurations; 2) the airport’s roadway network; 3) airport operations and delays; 4) cargo operations; and 5) increasingly crowded, congested, and unreliable transportation access to the airport. The roadway network and access to the airport are the two aspects of the Program that impact ground access for taxis and FHVs and landside modal prioritization.

To remedy the existing issues with the roadway network and access to the airport, the Port Authority is planning a centrally located four-level parking structure called the Ground Transportation Center (GTC) that is to include an AirTrain station and have a sustainable roof level plaza. Its ground level will serve as the new Terminal 1 and Terminal 4 arrivals plaza, staging area for taxis, FHVs, private vehicles, and buses.

Currently, there are few details on the plan for handling curbside pickup and drop-off areas and modal prioritization. For arrivals, there is a possibility that the JFK Redevelopment Program will locate private vehicle pickups near the arrivals plaza and relocate taxis and FHVs to a location accessible only by some mode of transportation (e.g., bus, AirTrain). This would be inconvenient for arriving passengers and, depending on the mode of transportation that would take people to the taxi and FHV pickup site(s), it could be polluting.

Curb-space allocation is critical to managing ground transportation traffic at JFK Airport. Various services will be competing to access arriving passengers at the front of the terminals, such as, buses, public transit, taxis, limousines, rideshare, and private vehicles. Also, space is limited. By 2030, the number of passengers at JFK is expected to grow by nearly one-third to over 75 million passengers.

To accommodate the expected growth, while creating a plan for the redevelopment of JFK Airport, officials should leverage curb space in order to reduce congestion. Vehicles should be staged along the curb adjacent to the terminal, and express matching or rematch should be utilized. To improve convenience for travelers, JFK Airport should also work with companies like Uber and Lyft to expand the menu of pickup options for travelers at designated locations, including premium pickup location options that would also generate revenue for JFK Airport.

As a point of reference, when the work was beginning for LGA I was brought in as a consultant to assist the Port Authority with helping manage stakeholder input on the resulting disruption when curbside space allocation ended for taxis, high-volume apps and for-hire vehicles. Additionally, the construction led to regular changes to the road patterns, holding lot locations and the pathways for passengers to hail a cab or greet their chauffeurs.

Through the active engagement of LGA managers and the construction team and the industry stakeholders, the Port was able to address the interim steps to allocate better access for travelers leaving from, or arriving at LGA. The final plan sought to balance LGA’s interest in expediting the construction while ensuring close curbside access for all for hire modes, while de-prioritizing private motor vehicle use at LGA.

While physical limitations make the fight for the airport curb intense, and while no system is perfect, many of the lessons learned from LGA’s reconstruction can be useful as our industry members and Port officials grapple with the JFK project – both for the interim and final plans for passenger pick-ups and drop-offs. I am hopeful that with NYC Council involvement, given Chair Brooks-Powers’ past Port Authority experience, that many eyes and ears will be looking and listening as this project unfolds to minimize business loss and congestion, and maximize the future opportunities for the taxi and for-hire industries.

Article by Matthew W. Daus, Esq.
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