First and foremost, I want to thank the leaders of the TLC’s regulated industries for helping to make our unveiling of the agency’s new Staten Island Licensing/Adjudication Facility such a success on June 3. As outlined in our recent industry notice, the facility is located at 1893 Richmond Terrace (between Clove Road. and Jewett Avenue), and offers selected driver and for-hire vehicle (FHV) licensing services on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, by appointment only, between the hours 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. For information and appointments, you may call (718) 815-3734 or (212) NYC-TAXI. We will also be utilizing the TLC’s web site at www.NYC.gov/taxi to maximize customer convenience, allowing our customers to make appointments and obtain information regarding the Staten Island facility via the Internet. The Staten Island facility will also hold summons hearings on Wednesdays and Fridays for those summonses that indicate a hearing has been scheduled there. I am pleased to report that business has been brisk at the facility, and have high hopes that this "experiment" will continue to be successful, and ultimately become a permanent part of the TLC’s infrastructure.
I am also pleased to report that Operation Street Hail is in full swing, fulfilling its mandate of getting illegal liveries off the street and out of business, protecting the public and supporting our legitimate industries. Of particular note are the joint operations being conducted by the TLC and the NYPD, the most recent of which occurred on June 14. On that day alone, 17 street hail summonses were issued to drivers, and one vehicle was seized, bringing the total number of summonses issued to 4012, and the number of vehicles seized (and potentially forfeited) to 229.
While Operation Street Hail has certainly garnered the most attention recently, it is not alone in the universe of specially tailored TLC enforcement initiatives. Another successful example is "Operation City Lights," which targets quality of life and safety related violations by both medallion taxicabs and for-hire vehicles between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. -- a practical approach in the "city that never sleeps." While it has a somewhat different methodology than some other initiatives, it too exists both to protect the public while supporting our legitimate regulated industries. Our latest operation brings the total of summonses issued since inception to 550, with 71 seizures (and potential forfeitures) of illegal for-hire vehicles.
I am writing this column a few hours after the TLC’s June 20 public hearing and meeting, at which we heard testimony and voted on the TLC’s regulation of the stretch limousine industry. Stemming from our concerns on the structural integrity of the vehicles being stretched by the limousine industry, the TLC was at long last granted the authority to regulate the stretch limousine industry in late December 2001. I drafted this law in my role as the TLC’s General Counsel several years ago and actively sought to obtain approval by the City Council immediately after my appointment as Commissioner.
The next key step was to put in place rules and regulations that apply the same high standards to these vehicles and drivers that exist in our other regulated industries, and I am happy to report that these proposed rules were supported by the TLC’s Board of Commissioners with a unanimous affirmative vote. For one thing, these new rules require significantly enhanced levels of insurance coverage – $1.5 million for vehicles with a seating capacity of 9-15 and $5 million for vehicles carrying 16-20 – which mirror Federal DOT requirements for vehicles transporting passengers in interstate commerce. The rules also require, for the first time, that the drivers of these vehicles hold TLC licenses. Perhaps most importantly, the rules, which I estimate to be in effect on or around August 1, 2002, will prohibit the operation of vehicles that have been altered with respect to their length, width or seating capacity unless that alteration was performed in accordance with the original vehicle manufacturer’s certification program. Speaking for both my fellow Commission members and myself, I found the testimony of several manufacturing industry experts to have been highly compelling, especially in the area of vehicle safety. It will also be nice to know that the Taxi and "Limousine" Commission will finally be true to its title.
As you may imagine, it has been a busy month for the TLC on a number of other fronts as well. On May 28, I offered testimony to the Workers’ Compensation Insurance Task Force on the importance of uniformity and consistency throughout our regulated industries with respect to the availability of Workers’ Compensation Insurance coverage for drivers. I am pleased to report that I was very satisfied with the quality of the questions asked of us, as well as the Task Force’s clear intention to move forward in this important area in the interest of the TLC’s many licensed drivers.
The TLC also recently unveiled the newly redesigned taxicab map. We made the frugal decision to wait until the supply of the previous version of the map was exhausted before finalizing this newly redesigned and updated version. The new taxi map adds a full 40 blocks to the north in the Manhattan-specific portion, allowing us to appropriately highlight the communities of Harlem, Spanish Harlem and Morningside Heights, and the many sites of cultural interest they contain. This, of course, was a product of the well-known economic revitalization of these communities, as well as their status as popular tourist destinations.
As expected, the new map has caused quite a positive buzz among passengers, who have let us know how much they are enjoying it with letters, phone calls, e-mails, and many thousands of visits to our web site where it is in downloadable format. It is also true that the TLC has noted a significant decline in complaints against drivers, and an equally significant increase in compliments. That being the case, I felt it was important to reflect this trend on our new taxi maps by putting the word "Compliments" before the word "Complaints" in promoting our (212) NYC-TAXI customer service hotline. In memory of the victims of the September 11, 2001 tragedy, the Twin Tower icons on the former taxi map were replaced with a simple and respectful tribute in the form of a red, white and blue ribbon. Other newly added sites of interest are Brooklyn and Staten Island’s new ballparks, the Chelsea Piers complex, and the Passenger Ship Terminals on Manhattan’s West Side. I hope everyone enjoys them, and makes good use of them in helping both visiting and local passengers to maximize their time in our world capital city.
The TLC recently played a prominent role in the Tribeca Film Festival, designed by its creators (famed Taxi Driver star Robert DeNiro among them) to spotlight the many pleasures of this quintessential New York City neighborhood that was so severely affected by the tragedy. Working closely with the NYC Department of Transportation, the TLC designated a number of temporary taxicab stands in Tribeca to help people make the most of every minute of this historic cultural happening.
I should also point out that the TLC, as all other City agencies, is about to close the book on its latest fiscal year, a year that was perhaps the most difficult and challenging of its 31-year history. But despite the two-month closure of our administrative headquarters, and the fact that most of our Inspectors and other staff were re-deployed to crucial emergency duties in the days and weeks following September 11th, I am proud to say that we have met or exceeded all of the agency’s stated goals. In one particularly remarkable example, we have more than tripled our initiation of padlock proceedings, in which we seek the closure of illegal livery bases, enhancing protection of the public while supporting our licensed industries. Further, despite the overtime that was incurred due to the TLC’s considerable efforts to assist its regulated industries, we will actually finish the fiscal year under budget.
I should also take a moment to point out the role that our M.A.P.P. (Management Accountability and Productivity Program) has played in these successes. It is in this unit that everything the TLC does is carefully tracked, scrutinized and analyzed, allowing us to make modifications wherever necessary to help the TLC make the most of every resource. The M.A.P.P. unit is also responsible in part for implementing the TLC’s redefinition of customer service to include our licensees as much as the riding public, something I hope that everyone reading these words either has experienced, or will experience in the near future. One tangible example of this is the evolution of our (212) NYC-TAXI from a passenger complaint line into a true customer service hotline that links both the public and our licensees to all of the TLC’s many services.
Last but not least, I am hopeful that by the time you read this, the strike involving three local bus lines in Queens will have come to an end. That aside, though, I would like to take this opportunity to commend the TLC’s staff, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) and DOT staff members, as well as the commuter van and livery industries for rising to the occasion of helping the more than 116,000 affected Queens commuters get to and from work and school during this difficult period. As of the date of this writing, we have distributed more than 1,600 permits to eligible commuter vans and livery vehicles to provide emergency service during the strike. While the TLC certainly appreciates the quick response of its industries to our city’s need, I am sure that it is only a fraction of the public’s appreciation.
Until next time, Happy Fourth of July.....