Maybe I’m just a cynic, but when regulators meet with people from the industry they regulate, I tend to think it’s either part of some political agenda or meant to placate a group that’s been loud and persistent enough to force the issue. I am happy (and deeply relieved) to report that I walked away feeling oddly optimistic after a recent visit by NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) Chair David Do to The New York Black Car Fund’s (BCF’s) new Driver Education Center.
I say “oddly” because optimism in NYC’s for-hire vehicle (FHV) industry has not exactly been easy to come by the past few years. But, since taking on the role of chair/commissioner, Mr. Do has made real progress in a short period of time for taxi drivers overwhelmed by medallion debt, he’s helping high-volume FHV drivers get a raise, and he’s working closely with the traditional segments of the FHV industry to iron out issues they have been suffering from, encouraging them to “continue innovating to keep up with an evolving industry.”
During his January 27 visit, Mr. Do dropped in on a live Defensive Driving course, fielding questions from attendees and offering insights into his goals and plans for the coming year, and beyond. Also in attendance were Ira Goldstein, BCF Executive Director, Berj Haroutunian, BCF’s Executive Chair, and Amnon Oberlander, Director of Education for the BCF, who recently announced a new “earn while you learn” opportunity for covered drivers.
“The new Black Car Fund Driver Education Course teaches drivers about the many benefits we provide at no cost to them, along with some additional safety instruction and tips specific to being a driver in New York,” explained Mr. Oberlander. “Covered Drivers are eligible to earn $200 for completing the course in person once every three years. An online version is also in the works, which will pay drivers unable to make the trip to our facility $75 to attend the 4-hour course remotely.”
Mr. Goldstein added that the new class is already booked up until the end of April, with nearly 500 drivers signing up.
In addition to Mr. Do’s visit to the Education Center, the TLC recently supported the BCF’s efforts by touting their new Accident Disability Insurance in an email to its licensees, pointing out that injuries sustained outside of work are now covered, with drivers getting paid up to 70% of their pre-disability net driving income. The BCF also just added an additional Personal Accident Insurance benefit that pays enrolled drivers a lump sum of between $50 and $40,000, depending on the nature and severity of the injury.
“The BCF’s Education Center is one of the for-hire industry’s most exciting new developments,” said Mr. Do. “Seeing drivers getting paid to take safety classes in this brand-new, welcoming facility was incredibly satisfying, and this is clearly just the beginning of more driver-supportive programs and efforts that will be based there. What’s great is that the Fund and the facility comes from drivers themselves. It was built by their hard work, it belongs to them, and I encourage everyone to take advantage of it.”
The Next 12 Months and Beyond
After the BCF Education Center visit, I got the chance to sit down with Mr. Do to discuss some of his short- and long-term goals. These include fighting for pay standards, expanding the city’s access to EV fast-chargers, and increasing accessibility for riders that require wheelchair accessible vehicles. In the coming weeks, I also expect to report on reforms to the Street Hail Livery (SHL) segment of the industry, “to help reduce costs and re-envision SHLs for improved outer borough service.”
Although the finer points of Mr. Do’s agenda are still being ironed out, his goals seem to align pretty well with those of the BCF and the Independent Drivers Guild, which advocates for drivers and partners with the BCF to educate drivers on wellness, safety and financial stability, among other things.
I look forward to seeing where Mr. Do takes the industry, after so many years of instability and suffering. Stay tuned for more details in the months and years ahead…