As I was writing my editorial this month, I read some surprisingly good news: According to The Washington Post, “The U.S. economy grew by a bustling 3.1% in 2023, shaking off recession fears and offering an upbeat picture of consumers and businesses ahead of a pivotal election year. The latest figures show the economy has soundly returned to stable footing following a period of dramatic pandemic-fueled swings that marked 2020 through early 2022.”

Reuters also reported that the economy “grew faster than expected in the fourth quarter amid strong consumer spending and shrugged off dire predictions of a recession after the Federal Reserve aggressively raised interest rates… A strong job market and rising wages have made it possible for many households to keep shelling out – particularly on services such as entertainment, travel and dining out – even at a time of elevated inflation.”

It is worth taking a moment to bask in the prospect that we very well may have avoided a recession, and the likelihood of a “soft landing” is finally feeling tangible. The fact that people have been spending their money on things that often require ground transportation is additional, much-needed good news for our industry.

Of course, just below the headlines touting strong economic signals were reminders that the world is still on fire, with multiple wars raging and a constant torrent of environmental catastrophes that stagger the mind. Sorry for the buzz-kill, but I probably don’t need to remind New York City’s professional drivers that tragedy is always looming, even in the best of times. When you spend each shift facing the dangers posed by passengers and other motorists, and suffer the frustrations of extreme traffic, often for hours on end, this is a given… which brings me back to the topic I was writing about before I read the encouraging news pieces about the resiliency of our nation’s economy.

This month, I intended to focus my editorial on the news that, at the close of 2023, almost 44,000 drivers had signed up for the long list of benefits provided by The Black Car Fund (BCF). It’s something I’ve encouraged people to do countless times, probably to the point of annoyance, but it’s because I honestly feel that it’s a huge mistake not to enroll. It requires nothing more than a few moments of your time, there’s no out-of-pocket expense (it’s already paid for by a mandated surcharge tacked onto each ride), and it gives so much to people who need and truly deserve it.

Although I’ve strongly endorsed signing up, I haven’t really followed the numbers in recent years. Back in 2019, only a little over one-fifth of the more than 100,000 eligible drivers had signed up, but I recently found out that Covid drove that up to 31,816 in 2020, then 35,171 in 2021, climbing further still over the next two years to 44,000, which seemed like great news to me. Apparently, the surge of people signing up enabled the Fund to add more benefits, which, in turn, enticed more people to enrollat:

It all sounded so promising… until I realized that’s still less than half of the people who qualify. My not-so-brilliant revelation was driven home by a letter sent out by the BCF in early January, from their Executive Chairman, Berj Haroutunian and Executive Director, Ira Goldstein: “For this coming year, our goal is to have every eligible driver enroll in The Black Car Fund Drivers Benefits program,” they said. “As most of you know, we had some drivers who passed away last year due to unforeseen, tragic accidents, both on and off the job. For those drivers that 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. So today, we implore every single driver who is reading our message – if you have yet not done so, please enroll in Drivers Benefit Program right away… and please share our message with fellow eligible drivers in your community and make sure they are enrolled as well.”

In closing, I again urge every eligible driver to take their advice because you never know what’s around the corner. Even as we breathe a collective sigh of relief over the news that the economy appears to be shaping up, it’s always wise to proceed with caution in this unpredictable world. Take care and stay safe…

Editor’s Note

In last month’s editorial, “MTA Approves TMRB Congestion Pricing Guidelines, Public Hearings Announced,” I refer to NYC taking “a couple giant steps closer to making it a reality” and wrote that “the city must somehow figure out how to determine if it’s actually school-bound or providing some other type of transportation service.” I apologize if I misspoke, and wanted to clarify that, although New York City does have a great deal of influence on the program, the Metropolitan Transit Agency is run by the state of New York.

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.

See All Articles