Hello all, and welcome to February! Once we make it past this month, the pleasant spring months are just around the corner, with the promise of mild weather and spring flowers; but most importantly, happier New Yorkers who are free from both bone-chilling temperatures and of the need to scale boulders to cross the street! Spring… what a wonderful time of the year.

While still in February, though, there are a number of things going on today which require our immediate action. To delay action risks turning the upcoming pleasant spring season into one of nightmares, and the headaches that come along with them.

Before we get into all the issues, I’d like to take the time first to congratulate Corey Johnson on being elected the new City Council Speaker, and also to the Chair of the council’s brand new For-Hire Vehicle Committee, Ruben Diaz, Sr. I know Ruben Diaz, Sr. from back in his Senate days, doing great work representing the South Bronx. I’ve always found him to be an honest, straightforward public servant who truly cares about each and every sector of our Industry, and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity.

Let’s begin with something which we have been contending with since far back into last year – the issue of FHV accessibility. In December of last year, the NYC TLC voted to pass a new FHV accessibility rule mandating that 25% of all FHV dispatches be completed by a WAV, regardless of whether or not the customer requested such a specific vehicle. Needless to say, this would all but completely wipe-out all medium to smaller sized bases within the Industry – a fate our Industry as a whole was, and remains unwilling to accept. To tackle the issue, an Industry Coalition was formed, and a logical, cost-effective alternative program was proposed to replace the TLC’s then-proposal.

Long story short, the TLC was unwilling to replace their proposal with ours. However, they did vote to allow both programs – their rulemaking, and our “pilot” program – to run side by side, with FHV bases being able to decide which approach to follow. The basics of the Coalition pilot program are that smaller and medium-sized bases would pay into a single, yet-to-be-established central dispatch facility (CDF), which would be responsible for dispatching a fleet of WAVs to service any and all WAV calls received by these participating bases. In comparison to the TLC plan, our offered solution is by far less wasteful, due to the fact owners and bases would not have to purchase unnecessary, costly, fuel-inefficient WAVs to service clients who not only may not need the accessibility, but would not accept such vehicle variants as an offering to begin with, resulting in irreparable reputation damage and decrease in revenues.

We will soon have presentations prepared for the Industry to go over, containing the details surrounding what we feel to be the most efficient and affordable way for a black car base to remain in compliance with the upcoming mandate. Keep an eye out for that!

It is important to note that, while the TLC did indeed vote to allow our program to run side by side with theirs, there is a “poison pill” provision, allowing the TLC Commissioner to cancel our program at any time and for any reason. Being our program requires a heavy and time-consuming investment, we’re not willing to work with such grey clouds above our heads, so to speak, and are preparing for possible litigation.

Next, we move on to something which has been rolling off the tips of our tongues for quite a number of years now… congestion pricing. For those who might not be fully up on this issue, here is a rundown: Congestion pricing is a system where vehicles are charged a specific fee for access to particularly congested sections of metropolitan areas during high-intensity times of day, such as the morning and evening rushes. While severe metropolitan congestion is far from unique, congestion pricing, on the other hand, is, with just a handful of cities globally serving as early adopters. London, Singapore, Stockholm and Milan all have versions of congestion pricing in place, typically dating back to the early 2000’s.

While each municipality administers their solution differently – Milan exempting taxis, electric vehicles and buses from the fee, for example – all of them have something in common; higher qualities of living were reached as a result. In Stockholm, one week following the implementation of fees, traffic congestion eased up by at least 22%. Not long after, levels of air pollution dropped as well. Let’s be honest, it’s tough to argue with those results.

Regardless, congestion pricing is still a concept well within its infancy in the United States, where to date, no city, big or small, has implemented any variety of congestion pricing – but it certainly has not been for lack of trying. Traffic conditions have been worsening in New York City and have shown no signs of letting up, having just reached a new historically low average speed in Manhattan’s Central Business District (CBD) and Midtown Core of between 4.7 and 6.8 MPH.

The Bloomberg administration tried to implement congestion pricing back in 2008 – however, many were of the opinion it was a concept whose time had not yet come, and ultimately, Albany legislators refused to bring it to a vote. Since that time, however, things have changed, with Governor Andrew Cuomo stating in August that “…congestion pricing is an idea whose time has come.”

The question everyone began to ask is: What would such a thing look like in New York City? To address that, Governor Cuomo created Fix NYC, a state task force assembled with the goal of putting together a congestion pricing plan for New York City, taking into account the seemingly insurmountable transit demands NYC residents bring forward.

Well, the Fix NYC task force recently released its report of recommendations on how to address this massive issue, and among other suggested actions, by far the largest (and arguably most controversial) suggestion is congestion pricing. The plan is broken down into three Phases, with Phases One and Two most directly effecting our Industry.

Phase One is largely focused on initiating investment to ease the traffic connecting Manhattan’s CBD with the outer boroughs, also calling for increased NYPD traffic enforcement activity to further expedite this process.

It’s Phase Two that will really be of interest to us… this Phase calls for a surcharge on all taxi and FHV trips within the CBD. First, a ten-month period would be granted to allow transportation companies to install GPS systems required for monitoring, with implementation immediately upon the conclusion of that ten-month period.

Finally, Phase Three brings with it the installation of a zone pricing program – first for trucks, and then for all vehicles entering Manhattan’s CBD below 60th Street.

Like I said, it’s Phase Two which is of most interest to us. Phase Two, which would begin in 2019 according to the report, should consist of “…a uniform surcharge policy for all transportation service trips (taxis, limousines, liveries, black cars, and app-based FHVs) that touch the CBD.”

The report explains that taxis and app-based FHVs have been found to be responsible for as much as half of all the congestion within the CBD. The report suggests a charging zone with a northern boundary as high as 96th Street, meaning any FHV trips touching anywhere in Manhattan below 96th Street would be subject to the charge (however, there was no charge suggested for vehicles traveling on the FDR Drive north of the Brooklyn Bridge).

As for the range of fees suggested; the panel recommended a surcharge of between $2 and $5 per trip for all taxi and FHV trips, including app-based services, about $25 per entry for trucks, and $11.52 for private vehicles, all during peak times. These $2 to $5 surcharges are what we can expect to begin paying in 2019.

We have been meeting with key Albany officials to make sure that no matter what happens, all Industry sectors will be treated equally and on a level playing field, not allowing for any competitive advantages whatsoever. During our talks up in Albany, we’ve realized there may even be a way to eliminate the FHV sales tax, but that’s something you’ll have to stay tuned for!

Everything I talked about in this column is urgent and demanding of immediate action, which is why I could not be happier to announce that the BCAC will be holding its first General Meeting of 2018 on February 9th. By the time many of you read this, chances are the event will have come and gone already, and the constructive conversations needing to be had were had. If you did attend the event, you will now understand the issues I’ve been discussing in this column that much better.

 FYI: The February 9th event is open only to BCAC Members in good standing! Also, a vendor will be at the General Meeting to present attendees with an ancillary source of revenue for black cars which will be exclusive to BCAC Members!

If you have let your BCAC membership lapse, aren’t sure if it has, or have been considering becoming a Member, there has never been a more important time than now to get it done! 2018 is already proving to be quite the demanding year, and your Industry has never needed you more! Visit www.NYBCAC.org for more information, or e-mail jfromberg@nybcac.org to get the ball rolling today!

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Article by Ira Goldstein

Ira Goldstein is Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund, Chief Operating Officer of the Black Car Assistance Corporation and Treasurer of the Coalition of Transportation Associations.

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