Everybody is talking about the proposed taxicab fare increase, and so I think it would be appropriate to chat a little about it in this column space. On the history of the proposal, it makes sense to start with the month of December 2001, when the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade's (MTBOT) petition for an approximate 24% rate increase moved the Commission to hold a public hearing on the subject on December 27, 2001. A great many gave public testimony in favor of an increase, and a number of concepts were "floated" and discussed. Before the conclusion of the hearing, there was a consensus among the Commissioners that the industry had made a compelling case for a fare increase, although the "how," "when," and "how much" had yet to be determined. Ultimately, the Commissioners voted to carry the discussion over until such time as additional data could be gathered by those segments of the industry that had not yet offered material supporting a fare increase. Being that the MTBOT represents the fleet segment of the industry - a block that is roughly 20% of the industry - it was only logical to seek answers to the question of whether their revenue and expense experience paralleled the experiences of other owners and drivers both post- and pre-9/11.
It is perhaps most noteworthy that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg publicly addressed the issue of a taxi fare increase this past week, essentially favoring a fare increase as a means of improving service to the public and recruiting and retaining needed drivers. This, of course, echoed the existing consensus among the TLC's Commissioners. I look forward to receiving and analyzing the requested industry data, and seeing the process through to finalization as quickly as possible.
On an equally productive and positive note, I am happy to talk about the upcoming Taxi Driver Job Expo that has been set for March 15 at the Astoria Manor in Queens. The event was proposed and planned by the Committee For Taxi Safety and its energetic Executive Director, David Pollack. The TLC is pleased to be playing a tremendously supportive and prominent role. The Expo will feature industry representatives touting virtually every facet of the taxi industry, from products and services to financing and leasing options, and will also include a strong presence by the TLC to help prospective drivers benefit from the agency's Expedited Licensing Program (call 212-NYC-TAXI for details, or see the industry notices on our web site at www.NYC.gov/taxi).
I think it is interesting to note that, as history has taught us, the size of the taxicab driver pool is linked to the performance of the economy. In boom times, drivers have more employment options available to them, and they tend to explore those options. When the economy is depressed or in recession, these drivers tend to come back to the more stable environment of the taxicab industry. The fact that a seven month comparison between July 1, 2001 and January 31, 2002, and the same period a year earlier shows a 19% jump in hack license applications, and a 26% jump in hack licenses issued certainly illustrates this. But that said, I believe the importance of retaining these drivers on a consistent basis through both bad and good economic times has never been more important, and has never been more potentially beneficial to both the drivers and the industry as a whole.
I am proud to say that the taxicab industry has never been more united on all the aforementioned issues, and has been highly supportive of our efforts to get more qualified drivers behind the wheel. Let's make it happen. Let's do our part to get the word out about the Taxi Job Expo; let's make use of the TLC's Expedited Licensing Program, and let's get those taxicabs on the road!
I would like to reflect for a moment about the phenomenon that some people call "March Madness." In the past, it has been a truly chaotic time when all for-hire vehicle registrations expire, and operators scramble to find insurance. For many, this means queuing up in lines at our Long Island City facility at 2 a.m. to get into the building the next day so that they can have their vehicle transfer, base transfer or new vehicle application transactions processed. The bottom line is that this was at best impractical, and at worst, truly inhumane with respect to those it affected. I am pleased to announce that at long last the TLC is attempting to tackle this problem in a truly creative and unique way - through appointments. Simply put, the TLC will require licensed for-hire vehicle bases to "bundle" their affiliated drivers' transactions, and make a convenient appointment with the TLC to drop these transactions off for processing. To make the process run even more smoothly, the TLC has extended the validity of TLC for-hire vehicle registrations (the "diamond sticker") until March 18, 2002 to make sure that everyone may continue to operate while their transactions are being processed. Once again, the TLC is happy to help, and hopes to turn "March Madness" into "March Mildness."
Of course, the month of March raises the issue of insurance, which has been of great concern to both the TLC's regulated industries and the agency itself. In short, there is both a serious lack of available insurance, and what insurance is available is expected to be significantly more costly than at any time in the past. While the TLC has no direct jurisdiction in this area, I do wish my considered opinion on the subject to be known. The TLC has worked long and hard with its regulated industries to enhance accountability, to ensure a safer and better driver, to improve training - in short, to make sure that New York City has the safest and best taxicab and for-hire vehicle industries in the world.
I believe we have accomplished this, as the dozens of countries and cities that come to us to try and duplicate our successes would certainly agree. I also believe that this should result in insurance prices getting lower, not higher, and you have my personal pledge to share this opinion - loudly - with anyone and everyone who has a say on this issue.
I should also take the opportunity to update you on our very successful "Operation Street Hail" initiative, in which undercover TLC inspectors (and occasionally, the TLC Commissioner!) actively hunt for both illegal livery operators and licensed liveries operating outside of their licensed authority. Not only does this initiative protect the public; it supports our licensed industries at a time in history when they have been sorely challenged in the aftermath of 9/11. I am proud to announce that we have issued more than 3,000 summonses, and have seized hundreds of illegally operating livery vehicles thus far. You have my word that we will keep the pressure on.
I would also like to share with you the fact that I am writing these words from the TLC's "Bullpen," an environment we have created thanks to the inspiration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. At least once a week, all the TLC's top managers get together in one place to brainstorm, to get things done, and to turn ideas into reality. If you have a chance to try it in your own businesses, I highly recommend it. It's smart, and it works.
Last but not least, I have also instituted a policy whereby the TLC's senior managers regularly take public transportation, as do I. To those drivers who are reading my column, consider this fair notice that your next passenger may be a certain inquisitive TLC Chair, who is interested in hearing about your concerns and opinions, and will invite you back to his office for a substantive discussion on the issues.
Until next time, good luck and God Bless.....