So, exactly what is the state of customer service in the medallion taxicab industry? The answer, I believe, is “better than ever before, but there is still more work to be done.” Simply put, everything the Taxi and Limousine Commission does is about customer service on one level or another. We serve two customers: (1) passengers and (2) licensees. Let’s take a look at a few recent examples and indicators to judge how we are performing on both fronts.
In terms of serving our licensees as customers, there are several recent examples that highlight where we are and where we are going. We continue to improve our website every day, to make our information more accessible for the public and our licensees. Most recently we added a brand new “Court Administration” section that details virtually everything there is to know about the adjudication process and how our licensees interact with it. I highly recommend a visit at http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/courtadmin/court_admin.shtml. We have also made advances in customer service through decreases in waiting time at our Long Island City offices, as well as in the virtual banishment of the chaos that for so many years marked the “March Madness” transaction season. With the cooperation of several major insurers, we are also working on initiating an insurance information electronic data transfer system that will allow the TLC to access important coverage information about our licensees, something that will ultimately benefit everyone. Once again, it is precisely all about customer service.
In terms of serving passengers, at this month’s public Commission meeting I reminded industry leaders that the TLC’s regulated industries must similarly prioritize customer service. While service is at an all-time-high in terms of professionalism and availability, there are still drivers who continue to create problems that affect our riders; two examples are refusals and cell phone usage while driving.
Compliance with rules prohibiting service refusals are at an all-time high of 97%. However, the number of consumer complaints rose in the first four months of the most recent fiscal year. While the year is not over and we are keeping an eye on these numbers, we must also acknowledge that there has been an increase in call volume since the implementation of 311 in late 2003. The 311 hotline has naturally and expectedly caused complaints to rise across the board due to increased access to government. In other words, while it is unclear whether the problem is getting worse, it clearly still persists. Then there are cell phones. There is hardly anyone who takes cabs that you can talk to who does not report that their driver was on a cell phone from their ride’s start to its finish. It inhibits communication, and it demonstrates that the driver’s mind is somewhere other than on the road, and on them. At best, it is bad customer service, and at worst, it is downright dangerous. Although our enforcement numbers show possible signs of compliance, I am not entirely convinced of this due to the enforcement challenges created by the recent innovations in hands-free and wireless headset cell phones – the use of which is legal for other drivers but not for professional taxicab drivers. These devices do make it more difficult for enforcement officers to observe violations – but for each and every time a driver uses a cell phone where he/she is not caught, there is just one more dissatisfied customer who walks away with bad experiences that are piling-up bad will against the industry.
We need to do something about these problems, and I have asked TLC staff to explore other enforcement options. However, taxicab drivers and owners must play their part as well. I would encourage all drivers to remind your colleagues of how damaging even a handful of refusals and cell-phone chatter sessions is for business. Also, I am appealing to fleet owners and agents to reinforce with their drivers that it is simply not worth it for numerous reasons to engage in this and other illegal conduct. Everyone must play their part – and I can assure you that all of us at the TLC will continue to do so.
On a happier note, I want to take a moment to congratulate Elliot “Lee” Sande r on his recent reappointment, by Mayor Bloomberg, to another term on the TLC’s Board of Commissioners. Commissioner Sander continues to bring a treasure of thoughtful counsel and wise experience to the TLC table - benefits that we will now thankfully be able to reap for years to come (or at least until 2012 – when his term expires).
I am also pleased to announce that the next – and final – medallion sale will take place in June of this year. While we have not yet set a specific date, there is already much “buzz” surrounding plans to auction the remaining 308 medallions. I look forward to sharing more details with you all in the coming months. In the meantime, if you are interested in receiving information as it becomes available, please call 311 and let them know you are interested in being on the TLC medallion sale mailing list.
Lastly, for those of you who have been closely following the events with regard to Nassau’s recent enforcement policies, we have been steadily moving forward on this important issue. We have had productive meetings with Nassau County staff to discuss possible legislative solutions, with the next one scheduled for later this month. Meanwhile, we hear that both Rockland and Suffolk are looking into the possibility of creating a formal regulatory framework for taxicabs, which is something that we will closely monitor in the months to come.