Re-reading last month’s column, it occurred to me I perhaps didn’t properly express my intended tone. I could see the writing on the wall, that chaos would likely ensue with so many massive changes all being introduced simultaneously, and I basically just wanted to warn our readers to brace for the unknown. I honestly think the best path to achieve that is to get your personal and business health in order, because nobody needs more unexpected obstacles when you’re trying to survive a storm. But looking at what transpired since last month – at the accusations being hurled around, the protests, the legal battles, and the disputes taking root between the various segments of the industry regulated by the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) – maybe that tone didn’t appropriately address the fear, anxiety and despair felt by so many, with so much at stake.

I still think it’s essential that all TLC-regulated drivers do everything possible to smooth the road ahead as we turn another corner into more unfamiliar territory, but what I’d really like to see is a more careful, measured approach by the city when massive changes are attempted and better communication and unity between the various segments of the industry.

My old friend Doug Schifter, who tragically passed away in 2018, and who was a self-described “chauffeur,” told me he considered drivers in all segments of the industry his “brothers and sisters.” He repeated this sentiment time and again over the years I knew him and expressed it in the columns he wrote for the readers of Black Car News. His insights continue to ring true to me, even as we take a moment to examine the recent chain of events.

  • On October 19, the TLC began accepting applications for For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) licenses “from any qualifying person or entity who applied with an electric vehicle (EV).” This was a surprise announcement, just after the news that all high-volume FHV company vehicles would have to go electric by 2030 – all in the looming shadow of congestion pricing, which is supposed to go into effect by the spring of next year.
  • The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) filed a lawsuit to stop the TLC from issuing new EV FHV licenses, and pursuant to a temporary restraining order (TRO), the TLC was forced to stop accepting new EV FHV license applications on Nov. 13. (The current exemption for wheelchair accessible vehicle licenses remains unaffected.)

The TLC said that their goal was to encourage the adoption of more EVs to ease the transition between now and 2030 – and further hoped the program would allow individual drivers to purchase their own cars and work for themselves, “rather than pay hundreds of dollars per week to lease vehicles from owners.”

The NYTWA argued that lifting the FHV license cap with no guardrails to prevent an oversaturation of cars in NYC’s transportation industry would have a severe financial impact on all TLC-regulated drivers. The organization said it has long advocated for regulations to cap vehicle leasing and rental fees to protect drivers from “unscrupulous rates from fleet owners,” but insisted the two issues should be addressed separately.

The Independent Drivers Guild accused the NYTWA of having ulterior motives, calling the TRO “a money grab by predatory fleet and yellow taxi owners.” The association also called the initial FHV vehicle cap – which started in 2018 – “poorly designed from the start,” according to a quote in the Queens Chronicle.

City Council members Amanda Farias (D, Bronx) and Selvena Brooks-Powers (D, Queens) chimed in, calling on the city to reassess lifting the cap. “[W]e have grave concerns regarding the categorical and seemingly haphazard lifting of the cap,” the two wrote in a joint letter. An article in Government Technology noted that the two were worried “large corporations” would “flood our city” with thousands of vehicles, worsening congestion and driving down driver pay.”

AutoMarketplace NYC reported that 11% of the applications came from corporate entities, the remainder from individual drivers. “The volume of applications implies the TLC received over $5 million of non-refundable application fees in less than a month and many drivers likely paid a similar amount to brokers who helped them navigate the rushed application process. In other words, we estimate $10 million came out of TLC-licensed drivers pockets THIS MONTH just in PROCESSING these EV applications.” In a separate article, AutoMarketplace NYC expressed concerns that adding to the city’s app-hail fleet could trigger more “lockouts,” which can be particularly painful for desperate drivers.

Charles Komanoff, a national expert on congestion pricing and traffic modeling, added his two cents,predicting that “just 5,000 more app-based [vehicles] would cause more congestion, more traffic deaths and more pollution, even if the vehicles run on electricity.” The analysis was based on his “Balanced Transportation Analyzer,” a tool meant to better understand traffic movements based on changes like more vehicles or a change in tolling programs, among other inputs, according to an article in Streets Blog NYC.

That’s a lot to process, but there’s one thing we do know: The TLC received nearly 10,000 applications for new EV FHV plates in the very brief time window before the TRO took effect. That’s a big number by any standard. TLC Chair David Do pointed out there are currently 25,000 fewer FHVs in NYC than in 2018, when the cap was initiated. It could also be argued that at least some (if not many) of the new EV FHV plates won’t add to the total number of vehicles because some of those drivers already work for Uber or Lyft… and they would simply now have their own plates. But… and this is a big BUT… not only is the city’s EV charging infrastructure still sorely lacking, but a lot of the accusations and criticisms are literally based on current realities, past experience and even data. No one really knows the repercussions of lifting the cap so abruptly, and seemingly without sufficient input from the people in the trenches, and it’s seriously frustrating and anxiety-inducing. I hate to say it, but I also think the TLC should have seen that TRO coming.

We’ve seen so many mistakes made in the past, and the issues at hand are clearly monumental, so the only conclusion I can come to is that industry leaders and those who regulate it need to pause, communicate their concerns and expectations, and proceed more slowly and cautiously, if their true goals are to improve the lives of drivers and create a “greener” industry by reducing pollution and traffic congestion.

As 2024 rapidly approaches, I can only hope for the best, and wish everyone a Happy Holiday season.

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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