The time has now come to discuss the possibility of a fare increase for the first time in six years. Late last year, the industry proposed an increase of over 23%. I am working with my staff at the TLC, the industry, my fellow Commissioners and the Bloomberg Administration to look deeply into this important issue, which deserves to be addressed immediately. I also feel that based on the professionalism and desire to work together that was displayed at the Commission’s December 2001 meeting, it is my hope that we can unite to reach a resolution in the near future.
I believe a fare increase issue truly illustrates to both the riding public and the industries we regulate just how delicate the TLC’s challenge is to balance the needs and equities of our licensees, while still maintaining a high level of customer service. Having to ensure that the proposed increase is fair to both riders, drivers and owners can be a difficult task. As the agency responsible for regulating the taxi industry, it is important that we introduce an increase that will be beneficial to the drivers, yet fair to the riding public who choose to pay a premium fare to ride in taxicabs rather than to take a bus or subway. I want to assure all of you that the Commission will consider everyone’s perspective before taking any further action.
Another major focus of the TLC in 2002 will be rider comfort. For years, riders have complained about a lack of legroom in taxicabs, so in November of 2001, the TLC announced approval of the Stretch Taxi, or "yellow limo", as I like to call it. Manufactured by Ford Motor Company, the stretch Crown Victoria taxi has six more inches of rear legroom for the passenger. Some of these new taxis are already on the streets and as soon as we overcome Ford’s delay in production, these new taxis (or any other new models which are at least as big as the stretch) will roll off the assembly line and replace the majority of the 12,187 taxis in the fleet. Another vehicle that we are very excited about that will improve rider comfort is the 2002 Honda Odyssey minivan. With enough room for five passengers, the Odyssey will also provide a more relaxed and roomier ride.
As part of our Industry Recovery Plan, the TLC is also committing its resources in 2002 to enforcing against illegal drivers that are picking up passengers without proper licenses, insurance, or simply operating outside the scope of their licensed authority. In the TLC’s new "Operation Street Hail," which has focused mainly on Manhattan’s Central Business District, our Inspectors pose as plainclothes decoys and hail these drivers to check for compliance with the law. At our inaugural operation on December 7, 2001, 185 summonses were issued, and 14 vehicles were seized for illegal for-hire operation. A second operation held a week later yielded the issuance of 254 summonses and 16 vehicle seizures for illegal for-hire operation. To date, we have issued 1,268 summonses and seized 91 vehicles. Our regulated industries have faced numerous challenges in the aftermath of the September 11th tragedy, not the least of which is unfair and illegal competition from unlicensed vehicles or licensed vehicles operating out of the scope of their authority.
Another way the TLC plans to help drivers in 2002 is to address the problem of health insurance. For too long, many licensed taxi and livery drivers have gone without proper health care, and we here at the TLC plan on doing as much as we can to ensure that our drivers have the same health benefits provided for them as other working Americans. The TLC is working with the Human Resources Administration (HRA) in the HealthStat program to provide insurance to TLC drivers and their families. Together with HRA, the TLC is reaching out to its drivers to inform them of eligibility and enrollment information with regard to healthcare.
With a proposed fare increase on the table, the introduction of new and more comfortable vehicles, the development of the HealthStat program, and a crackdown on illegal operators, 2002 is no doubt off to a busy start for the TLC. I am confident that both the riding public and our licensees will see that the TLC will be committed to their needs both this year and for years to come.