I have to admit, I was encouraged by the tremendous response to the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission’s (TLC’s) release of 1,000 new EV-only, for-hire vehicle (FHV) licenses – 600 on March 15 and an additional 400 on March 29. It seemed like solid evidence the industry, though still wounded and reeling from years of neglect and bad policies, has a heart that’s still beating.
The process, unfortunately, was a melee. Literally tens of thousands of people furiously competed to open a “Statement of Interest” form for the licenses, which were made available on a first-come, first-served basis. Essentially, the biggest advantages an applicant had weren’t experience or a clean driving record, they were fast fingers and some amount of tech-savviness.
It basically came down to, “How quick can you click?” For both batches of licenses, you had about five minutes to get your name into the system before the online forms became unavailable, due to the overwhelming response.
A week before the applications for the first batch were scooped up in a mad frenzy, media outlet AutoMarketplace urged the TLC “to amend the online ‘Statement of Interest’ submission process ahead of next Wednesday’s online form going ‘live’ & create a mechanism that prioritizes need + merit vs. how quickly one can access a site and click a button.”
In a follow-up column just after the first batch was submitted, but before the second one went online, AutoMarketplace offered the TLC some additional advice on how to improve the process and make it more fair and logical – but in the end, it was a question posed directly to TLC Chair, David Do that best summed up the frustration, desperation and confusion plaguing what the TLC estimated was “more than 100,000” people who applied to get on the wait list: “If you were a 10-year TLC ‘veteran’ driver that’s been in a leasing arrangement, who lost out to a newer TLC driver because they clicked a button 45 seconds faster than you, how would that make you feel?” AutoMarketplace asked.
I met Mr. Do, and I’ve been impressed by his efforts in recent weeks and months to better understand the needs of the drivers his agency regulates – including visiting the Black Car Fund Education Center, getting his hack license and meeting for coffee at the new “driver clubhouse.” But clearly, the process of adding 1,000 new EV-only FHV licenses could have been much more equitably, and a lot less maddeningly, conducted.
In an announcement immediately following the conclusion of the application process for the second batch, Mr. Do noted: “A thousand EV licenses were successfully filled this month, and more than 100,000 applied for the wait list. The continuing demand is sending a very clear message that people want more TLC EV licenses. This will inform how we assess the release of future licenses.”
The TLC also noted that, out of the 1,000 licenses granted, the overwhelming majority – 826 – went to individuals. The remaining 174 were registered under business entities.
Although my optimism was shaken by the frustrated cries of people unfairly shut out of the process, I’m hoping we can get past this bump in the road. After all, Mr. Do did more than just hint that additional licenses could be made available in the near future… and that’s good news. At the same time, it shouldn’t be difficult to figure out a better system than what transpired in March. The real goal should be adding FHV licenses based on things like need and experience. Even the blind luck of a lottery system would be better than distributing them based on who has the speediest fingers.
Congestion Pricing Update
Experts seem to agree that some form of a congestion tax is coming to NYC, most likely in 2025. Thankfully, the date keeps getting pushed back, giving industry leaders an opportunity to advocate on behalf of drivers (and their passengers), who would be devastated by an additional massive fee, on top of the laundry list of fees that already appear on an FHV trip receipt.
It’s also a call to action for drivers, who have been marching in the streets and holding rallies at City Hall to fight for their rights on a number of issues. They need to keep this energy going and continue building momentum, working together, regardless of what segment of the industry you’re from.
Drivers: You have the power of numbers. Your influence can be far greater than you realize. You just need to work together on common goals.
The Black Car Fund, Independent Drivers Guild, Uber and Lyft have already committed to working together to battle congestion pricing, pointing out the FHV industry already contributed $1.75 billion to the MTA in recent years. Before the MTA takes another huge bite out of the already slim profit margins the FHV industry operates under, my question is: Where did that $1.75 billion go?
For that matter, the MTA received more than $10 billion for Covid relief. Where did that money go?
It’s simply unfair for an agency as poorly run as the MTA to keep extorting money from people who already paid more than their fair share; people who are personally suffering.
Being a TLC-licensed driver is not an easy life. It requires hard work, long hours, incredible patience and more than just a small financial commitment. It’s time regulators and legislators stopped viewing taxi and FHV drivers as bottomless piggybanks that they can crack open and take what they need, after they mismanage the money already handed to them.