Although I’ve unfortunately become accustomed to disappointment these days, I have tried to remain cautiously optimistic about the City’s recent efforts to steer the TLC-regulated industries back onto a healthier path – one that will hopefully reduce traffic congestion, increase driver pay and allow long-standing businesses to regain some ground after years of governmental negligence, inaction and poor policy decisions.
While there is no “silver bullet” to solve all of the industry’s woes in one fell swoop, a new plan – developed by a united group of traditional bases in the Black Car, Luxury and Livery segments – could go a long way in correcting years of unfair treatment that led to incalculable financial and emotional pain, and the very quantifiable loss of human lives, which can be counted in the names of those whose despair led to actual suicides.
The plan: Allow FHV bases that have been hurt most by the current state of affairs to “onboard” new vehicles, with “restricted” FHV licenses. These licenses would be for vehicles rather than drivers, and each vehicle would only be allowed to serve a base in the specific segment of the industry chosen at the time of registration.
The plan WOULD NOT interfere in a substantial way with the City’s efforts to reduce traffic through its continuation of the broader FHV cap, which currently only exempts wheelchair-accessible and fully-electric vehicles (but not hybrids). That cap, after all, is aimed at the High-Volume For-Hire Vehicle (HVFHV) bases that already have more drivers than they need to serve their customers.
The restricted licenses that the BCAC are promoting (along with leaders from the Luxury and Livery segments of the industry) would allow bases that played no part in creating the City’s serious traffic problems to add vehicles, as needed, to serve existing clients and re-grow their businesses in a responsible way.
“The restricted licenses would provide a more stable livelihood for drivers – many of whom are already suffering due to increased competition from the many drivers on the various app platforms,” explains Diana Clemente, President of the Black Car Assistance Corporation (BCAC). “The long-term impact of an oligopoly of two or three huge companies controlling the entire market will ultimately be far worse for drivers, when those companies decide to take a bigger slice of their share.”
“The universal FHV cap on new vehicle licenses may have been aimed at companies like Uber and Lyft, but it has hurt small, locally-owned car services already struggling to survive,” agrees Berj Haroutunian, Board Member and Past-President of the BCAC. “For years now, Uber and Lyft have used temporary recruitment benefits to poach our drivers. Now, we’re unable to replace those drivers because of the cap. If the cap remained on Uber and Lyft, but was lifted for us, the result would be more choices for New Yorkers and more revenue for local companies and drivers.”
In August, Mayor de Blasio signed a “finding of substantial need” to expedite the continuation of the broader FHV cap, along with another important TLC rule passed earlier in the month, which gives HVFHV bases one year to reduce the amount of time the vehicles in their fleets spend “cruising” in the Manhattan Core without passengers. The regulations resulted from an intensive study by the TLC and NYC Department of Transportation, which found that nearly one-third of Manhattan Core traffic comes from HVFHV companies, and that their vehicles drive around without a passenger 41% of the time. The HVFHV bases will need to bring that number down to 31% within a year, according to the new rule.
This follows legislation that has increased driver wages through a formula that has attempted to establish a minimum wage of sorts for HVFHV drivers. The BCAC points out that traditional Black Car drivers already generally earn more than the $17.50 per hour minimum that the TLC recently established for HVFHVs – and this will only get better if industry regulations are adjusted to create a more level playing field.
“Locally owned, traditional car service providers are struggling to survive because multi-billion-dollar behemoths are losing millions of dollars a day in New York to create an unfair market and squeeze them out,” notes Ira Goldstein, Executive Director of the BCAC. “That’s why we need the City to create a fairer industry that provides more options for customers, more business for local companies and a better quality of life for drivers.”
Before I sign off, I would like to say that I support Ydanis Rodriguez for the role of TLC Chair. Mr. Rodriguez, who currently chairs City Council’s Transportation Committee, has shown in interest in the position, and I think he’d be a great pick. When he was younger, he actually served as a Livery driver, giving him experience that would be invaluable to anyone taking over the position.