The horrors of September 11th and its aftermath have touched the lives of each and every person reading these words in ways that will take years to become fully evident. Having been displaced from the Agency’s 40 Rector Street headquarters, the TLC itself was sorely challenged in the days after the tragedies, and remains in a temporary configuration until such time as we are returned to our "home."
The best that can be said about this nightmare is that the TLC moved rapidly and successfully to restore all of its core services and was ready to service its many different customers almost without disruption. All of the TLC’s regulated industries were dealt a serious blow by the terrorist attacks. But here too, our industries heroically rallied to restore normalcy in a city and at a time that was anything but normal.
Of course, nothing has been more devastating than the loss of life that has resulted from these attacks. My heart goes out to all the families who lost loved ones that terrible day. I have the sad duty of informing you that among those lost was one of our medallion taxicab operator licensees, Mr. Japhet Aryee, who was working at his primary job at the NYS Department of Taxation in the World Trade Center. As I open the TLC’s first post-crisis public meeting on October 30th with a moment of silence for all those we lost, he will be prominent among those for whom that silence is meant to meaningfully mourn.
I had the opportunity to meet and talk with thousands of drivers since that devastating day, mostly to thank them for participating in the TLC’s Operation Free Transportation, and also to talk with them and hear what is on their minds. Not surprisingly, I came away with a great sense of pride in the courageous way our industries stepped up to help our City recover. I was equally proud of those many brave drivers who, despite their concerns about retaliation by misguided people who may take out their anger against them only because of their appearance, still had the courage to get in their vehicles and serve the public. I remember assuring them that the TLC, as well as our courageous Mayor, stands firmly with them against the proliferation of such destructive ignorance.
I also remember the pride these drivers felt in knowing that they had provided well over 5,000 free rides to grieving families, helping them through their bereavement, and to emergency workers, who truly appreciated the needed respite from their toils. Simply put, a call went out for heroes of all kinds on September 11, 2001, and I am proud to say that our taxicab and for-hire vehicle licensees answered that call with distinction and have earned the gratitude of our recovering city. To offer these outstanding drivers just a small measure of the gratitude we feel, I have invited them to the October 30th meeting.
There is no doubt that our regulated industries are continuing to face challenging economic times, and the TLC continues to try and help wherever it can. To that end, we have created a preliminary Industry Recovery Plan. This plan contains a considerable number of helpful initiatives that will continue to evolve as time goes on. Among the many facets of the TLC’s Recovery Plan is the expediting of license applications to put more licensees into the driver’s seat. This was accomplished by working closely with the State government to speed the return of fingerprint data, which was the most time-consuming aspect of the license application process.
Of course, it was of paramount importance that the TLC work with its sister agencies to see that all TLC-licensed vehicles be exempted from the single-occupancy vehicle prohibition. This, in concert with the enhanced access we have facilitated for TLC-licensed vehicles in downtown Manhattan, has helped many for-hire vehicle bases and taxicabs get through this difficult time. The seminars sponsored by the TLC to assist our regulated industries in receiving necessary information and aid from FEMA and the Small Business Administration have been very well received. With the issue of access to various points in Manhattan being so crucial to our licensees, the up-to-the-minute traffic information offered by the TLC’s Transportation Hotline became an invaluable tool.
For the independent owner/driver who was affected by the September 11th tragedy, I proposed to my fellow Commissioners that the TLC institute a special vehicle retirement exemption that will allow vehicles to remain an additional year on the road due to economic hardship. The proposal will be discussed at our October 30th public meeting, and I will ask that it be voted upon that day as well.
While we continue to strongly encourage licensees to renew on time, the TLC will also change its policy to allow drivers to renew their licenses even if the license has lapsed over 30 days. Instead, the TLC will give for-hire vehicle and taxicab drivers a full six (6) months to process their renewal. Also, experienced former licensees (whose TLC licenses were not revoked) will also have an opportunity to regain their license in a more expeditious manner, all in the name of restoring our regulated industries, and our beloved city, to normalcy.
The TLC has also been successful in our communications outreach to the industries we regulate, with more than eight emergency industry notices going out thus far to provide crucial information on crisis-related policies, programs and services. The TLC Information Hotline proved to be a success as well, with Agency employees fielding dozens of calls each day to provide a wide range of information to our licensees.
I believe it is also timely and appropriate to announce in this column my intention to address the issue of illegal for-hire vehicle activity, and the threat it poses to the medallion taxicab and legitimate for-hire vehicle industries, with a level of legal and enforcement action never before seen. Simply put, it is the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. An important part of the TLC’s Recovery Plan is to ensure that illegal operators do not steal the existing business from law-abiding licensees.
Lastly, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge an achievement that I gratefully share with our licensees. Never before in the history of the TLC has there been so high a level of unity between and among the TLC’s regulated industries and the Agency. I remember vividly the pride I felt while handing out bottles of water at one of our Operation Free Transportation sites, and seeing a line of medallion taxicabs, for-hire vehicles, commuter vans and even paratransit vehicles waiting together to help victims’ families in their hour of need. But this unity was just as evident on the faces and in the words of the many drivers I have met since September 11th. I have absolute confidence that this closeness and sense of shared purpose will continue long beyond this crisis.
I close this column with a heartfelt thank you to the drivers who are reading this, for the importance of your partnership in New York City’s recovery cannot be underscored, and will not be forgotten.