I hope everyone is enjoying the Summer. The weather is hot, but I am sure our passengers and drivers are happy that our taxicabs are air-conditioned. Without breaking too much of a sweat, the TLC has been very busy over the last several months; so let me take a few moments to update everyone on recent events.
First, I would like to thank Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and the New York City Council for re-appointing me as Chair and Commissioner of the TLC, for a term that will expire on January 31, 2010. The vote of confidence is very much appreciated and is certainly a tribute to the dedicated employees and public servants at the TLC.
My reappointment came on a day of great tragedy for the City, as it occurred just one hour before the late Councilmember James Davis was murdered in the balcony of the City Council Chamber. This tragic loss hit home with our staff, one of whom was within yards of the shooting. I am just thankful that my staff and I returned to the office on July 23rd after testifying, because we had planned (as we did two years ago) to watch the final Council vote from the very balcony where the tragedy occurred. Our prayers, condolences and respect go out to the Davis family, the constituents of his District where he served, and to our colleagues on the City Council.
At my reappointment hearing on July 23, 2003, I offered testimony recounting our many accomplishments, all pursuant to the vision I set forth when I was first confirmed in August 2001. These goals included increased enforcement, enhanced customer service for passengers and our TLC customers, and outreach to the industry and the community to proactively address issues. Looking back over the past two years, many of our ambitious objectives have already been achieved, setting the stage for more accomplishments to come. I thought our readers would like to know more about our future direction. To read even more about this topic, you may access my confirmation testimony before the City Council on our website, www.nyc.gov/taxi.
In terms of enforcement priorities and goals, the TLC has made tremendous strides over the last two years in addressing the problem of unlicensed for-hire activity through new street-level operations known as Operation Street Hail and Operation Hotel. After issuing thousands of summonses, we are making a dent in this problem by more effectively deploying enforcement personnel through our Management Accountability and Productivity Program (M.A.P.P.), which targets hot-spots of illegal activity throughout the City. Moving forward, we recently partnered with the Port Authority to assist them in eradicating illegal solicitation and for-hire activity at our airports, and we expect significant results on this front in the coming year. In addition to targeting individual offenders on the street, the TLC has recently started to focus more attention on licensed businesses and vehicle owners who permit and facilitate illegal activity. You may have recently heard of various bases that had their licenses revoked for dispatching unlicensed drivers and for operating while on suspension. In the future, we will place particular emphasis on business owner accountability, instituting procedures that include fines, suspension and revocation for dispatching unlicensed or suspended drivers, uninsured or underinsured vehicles, or for operating with a suspended base license. Also, you can expect to see increased enforcement under Operation Refusal in light of increased ridership in the taxicab industry as well as the continuation of our recently instituted insurance fraud investigations.
Our customer service initiatives have resulted in great progress for both the riding public as well as our licensees and applicants. Passengers now enjoy safer, cleaner and bigger taxicabs, as well as the option of calling the citywide 311 hotline to file compliments, complaints and lost property reports with the TLC. The TLC has also facilitated additional for-hire service by promoting the licensure of drivers through its various licensing programs and job fairs. The TLC will continue its efforts to expand service for the riding public over the next three years in its role as lead agency for the potential sale of 900 medallions – which would include clean air and accessible vehicles. Another top priority for the TLC over the next year will be to complete the implementation of accessible transportation for the disabled in the for-hire vehicle industry.
The TLC has also made significant progress over the last two years in customer service for its licensees. Waiting times were significantly reduced at the TLC Adjudications Division, March Madness was eliminated in the Licensing Division, a facility was opened in Staten Island with licensing by appointment, and we now offer several on-line licensing transactions for the benefit of the industry. In addition, there are several programs that were implemented to facilitate the licensing of drivers at less cost to applicants, including the EZLicense Program and Expedited Licensing Program for new applicants, the Welcome Back Program for already experienced drivers, and the LiveScan digital fingerprint system to speed-up the processing of all driver applications. In the coming years, we will explore using the internet for more transactions with our licensees, and will continue our experiment with licensing by appointment. Over the last year, we expanded the 212-NYC-TAXI customer service hotline to our licensees for their convenience, and over the next year we will be fully integrated into the citywide 311 system. The 311 number can be used to inquire about everything from alternate side parking regulations to the status of any TLC business.
Our third goal was to reach out and communicate with all levels of the TLC’s regulated industries and to the communities these industries serve. Through increased use of our website, attendance at community and civic meetings, and the proactive use of driver focus groups and our advisory boards, the TLC is more in touch now than ever before. Over the next year, the TLC’s unique management program known as H.O.M.E. (“Hands-On Management Experience”) will be expanded so that all TLC managers will learn - not only about all the functions of the agency - but about our regulated industries and how they work, so that we can be more responsive, understanding and effective. We will be expanding our outreach over the next few years not only for purposes of possibly selling more medallions, but also to inform more drivers about the TLC’s insurance discount and health insurance programs. We will continue to expand our driver recognition program because the industry’s labor force is its backbone and we need to ensure that we do everything we can to retain experienced drivers in the coming years. Finally, we need to continue to educate our drivers to make them safer and to learn more about the TLC and its regulations. To this end, we will be exploring the publication of materials for drivers to inform them of their rights and responsibilities, and to provide them with information that will make it easier to better serve their passengers.
We move forward to accomplish these goals with a full Board of Commissioners that includes the recent addition of two new appointees – Commissioners Iris Weinshall and Stanley Michels. Iris Weinshall is also the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation, and lends her vast transportation and governmental experience to the Board. Stanley Michels, an attorney and former City Council Member who chaired the Council’s Environmental Committee, brings great public policy and environmental expertise to the table.
Without a doubt, the TLC’s agenda is packed. There is plenty of good history, and more history to make. I would like to thank the industry not only for its support and cooperation, but also for its constructive criticism from which we have and will continue to learn. I look forward to making this term as productive and exciting as the first.