It has been another productive month for the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), on several fronts. We have made significant progress in our efforts to combat illegal for-hire activity as well as to further enhance transportation opportunities and access for disabled passengers.
Zero Tolerance – Operation Street Hail
When I was first appointed Commissioner and Chair in 2001, I announced the creation of “Operation Street Hail”, where TLC field enforcement officers pose undercover as passengers hailing for-hire vehicles. This operation has been part of ongoing enforcement deployments ever since. Recently, I received several reports from our industry licensees of the proliferation of illegal street hails in Manhattan’s Central Business District, which were confirmed by TLC staff observations. As a result, I recently enhanced “Operation Street Hail” by deploying all TLC enforcement officers, assisted by TLC staff and NYPD officers, to conduct “Zero Tolerance” days to tackle this problem.
To date, more than 1,100 summonses have been issued to violators at over 500 strategically located hailing locations. During this operation, TLC officers have issued violations for any and all observed violations, including almost 300 summonses for overdue inspections, unlicensed drivers, failure to comply and invalid decals. Thus far, 28 unlicensed vehicles plying their illegal trade were seized as a part of the operation.
Clearly, this enhanced operation has had an effective start, and we are encouraged by industry leaders who have reported that they see a tangible difference out there now that the “word” is out. However, I must confess to being somewhat dismayed by the higher than anticipated number of violations issued. While the numbers do paint a picture of effective targeted enforcement, they also illustrate that the situation is even worse than anticipated based upon reports received. That being the case, I will continue to devote significant resources to “Zero Tolerance – Operation Street Hail” until this illegal activity shows signs of being significantly curtailed.
This form of illegal activity is destructive to our licensed drivers, and takes advantage of passengers in that they are charged fares notoriously higher than licensed taxicab and livery fares. Primarily, though, this operation is a public safety initiative, as illegal for-hire vehicles jeopardize passengers who enter cars that are underinsured, often substandard and uninspected, driven by operators who may have horrendous driving records, and who have neither been subjected to drug testing nor criminal background checks.
Airport Anti-Hustling Legislation
At the same time that we tackle illegal street hail activity on the streets, we are actively seeking to pass legislation to stiffen penalties for illegal solicitation by for-hire vehicle operators at our airports. My staff and I recently visited Albany to urge legislators to pass laws to ensure illegal operators caught hustling are penalized appropriately and not as a mere cost of doing business. A bill recently passed the State Senate and the Assembly’s Transportation Committee due to these efforts. I would like to thank the industry for their support and effective efforts in moving this legislation forward. It is my hope that the legislature will ultimately pass legislation that will assist the Port Authority in addressing this serious problem.
I am also pleased to report that significant progress has been made with regard to our mission of enhancing transportation options for persons with disabilities. Closings continue almost daily on the remaining wheelchair accessible medallions that were recently auctioned, which will bring the total number of accessible taxicabs on the road to 231 - more than any other US city. These increased numbers of accessible taxicabs will be part of a demonstration project using the city’s 311 hotline to dispatch them to wheelchair-bound passengers starting this summer. Also, on June 12th the Commission unanimously approved rules allowing for the use of rear-entry accessible taxicab vehicles, which have proven extremely popular with both taxicab drivers and passengers. Finally, I am pleased to announce the beginning of a Hearing Loop Pilot Program, with eight taxicabs already equipped with technology that allows passengers with “T” coil-equipped hearing aids to receive sound more directly and far more clearly.