It is estimated that a week after Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) were made legal across New York state on June 29, more than 20,000 people were already signed up to drive for the app-based transportation providers.
The expansion of TNCs into New York state was agreed upon by lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of the state’s $153 million budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. However, the state included a stipulation that allows county governments and four major cities – Rochester, Yonkers, Syracuse and Buffalo – the option to block TNCs from picking up passengers within their municipal limits.
In the weeks leading up to June 29, several of the counties surrounding New York City – including Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk – were still deciding whether to opt out. None did.
Westchester County officials did however unveil a plan they believe will help ease some safety concerns regarding the expansion of TNCs into Westchester. Called “Thumbs Up,” the program allows TNC drivers to voluntarily submit to fingerprint checks, an issue that had been a point of contention for many government officials.
Drivers who pass the $90 fingerprint checks, which they must fund themselves, will be issued a decal by the county to be posted on their windshield.
County officials said they will continue to work with taxi and limousine companies to ease their regulatory burdens to ensure a level playing field. Edward Stoppelmann, president of Red Oak Transportation in Port Chester, noted that drivers licensed by the county Taxi and Limousine Commission have always been subject to mandatory fingerprinting and drug testing.
“The Livery Industry Council of Westchester, which represents the for-hire companies in the county, will continue working with the county executive and Taxi and Limousine Commission leadership to ensure that public safety remains its top priority,” said Stoppelmann.
John Ravitz, executive vice president and COO of the Business Council of Westchester, said that while not opposed to TNCs, the Business Council thinks those companies should be subject to the same rules and regulations as taxi and limousine companies. Ravitz added that the organization lobbied the state Legislature on behalf of the Westchester Livery Association, advocating that if regulatory mechanisms are already in place in counties around the state, as is the case with Westchester, “then the regulation of transportation network companies is better served by those counties.”
Arthur Goldstein, attorney for the Taxicab Service Association, was highly skeptical of Westchester’s fingerprinting plan. Goldstein noted that around 30% of those who apply to become a driver in Westchester are rejected because of their fingerprinting check.
“If it’s a voluntary program, and you know you’re going to get rejected, you’re not going to go through with it,” said Goldstein.
Owners of limousine and taxi services in Nassau County have complained that the state is imposing different regulations on TNC drivers than taxi drivers, pointing out that there is no law requiring TNC drivers to get fingerprinted. Taxi drivers in Nassau County have to be fingerprinted in each village, town and city in the county to ensure that a driver is not a registered sex offender.
Instead of a fingerprinting requirement, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles requires TNCs to do background checks on their potential employees. According to the DMV’s website, each company would also have to do a review of the applicant’s driving record and enroll all drivers in the DMV’s License Event Notification System, “which reports traffic ticket convictions, suspensions, revocations, reinstatements and other events.”
Critics are also concerned that TNC drivers will be using their personal cars, and are not getting the proper commercial insurance. The DMV is requiring each TNC to offer liability insurance for $1.25 million whenever a passenger is being driven around. Uber is also offering its drivers No Fault insurance, which means that all occupants of the vehicle will be covered for medical and health expenses resulting from an accident. Injuries will be covered for up to $50,000 worth of medical expenses.
The legislature has said it will continue to monitor the safety of TNC vehicles, and counties can still opt out of the program in the future.
Sources: LIHerald.com, westfaironline.com