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May 2009

There are two important items to talk about this month….one of them being the TLC’s release of a Taxi Technology Request for Information (RFI), and the other being the Commission’s passage this week of a comprehensive For-Hire Vehicle Industry Accountability Reform Package.

Let us start with the RFI.  As we have been promising for several months now, we have released a detailed document that asks the question, “How do we bring the taxi technology program to the next level?”  Or, “how do our taxi technology systems evolve from Taxi 1.0 to Taxi 2.0”?  The answer, hopefully, will come from the industry (especially taxicab drivers), the technology community, and members of the public, whom we invited to tell us what they would like to see or experience through the in-taxi technology systems in the future.

The thought process behind the RFI is fairly straightforward.  It has been five years since these technology systems were first conceived, and more than three years in planning and development, and over two years of implementation.  I think it would come as no surprise to anyone that technology evolves at an amazing rate these days, and so why not explore how we can drive the process of enhancing the capabilities of these systems?

Over the last few years, we have received a good amount of feedback from people both inside and outside of the taxi industry about how the technology could be refined, and we included many of these ideas in the RFI as “conversation starters.”  Some of the ideas that would most directly benefit drivers include: navigation systems; live traffic information and ways of locating the nearest restrooms, gas stations and relief stand locations; reduced credit card transaction costs; a driver debit card that would make it easier and quicker for drivers to collect credit card fare income (while possibly being linked to discounts on car washes, fuel, restaurants, etc…). 

For passengers, we have imagined an improved Passenger Information Monitor (PIM) screen that could possibly include: enhanced driver information (photo, hack license number, etc…); interactive “point of interest” maps based on cab location; “Wayfinding” (knowing your location, and finding the best routes); multiple language capabilities; a music and music video menu; WIFI capability (check e-mail, surf the Web, shop, etc…); iPod or MP-3 plug-in capability; real-time interactivity with the TLC to facilitate surveys, compliments or complaints; and the automatic e-mailing of ride receipts to the e-mail address of the passenger’s choice.  We could potentially better serve passengers with disabilities with the captioning of PIM content, incorporating hearing loop technology for audio assistive device users, and facilitate the printing of receipts with larger, easier-to-read print.

Of course, the media seized on just one of the many dozens of ideas being bandied about, and that was the possibility of creating cell phone blocking technology that would prevent talking while driving for drivers while leaving passengers unaffected.  Of course, if any such technology were to ultimately be developed, we would ensure that it would not affect emergency calling capabilities.  Other ideas in the RFI include the development of meter technology that would easily calculate multiple/split fares and complement our efforts to develop more group riding scenarios for the riding public (more money per trip for drivers, less money per individual rider – a “win-win” for everybody!).

As I said, these are just “conversation starters”.  Nothing mentioned in the RFI is definite or should be ruled in or out, and we hope to receive many more ideas as a result of the RFI process that would potentially benefit drivers, owners and passengers alike!  The comment period for the Request for Information officially began on April 14 and will end on June 15, 2009.  The RFI is posted on the TLC Web site www.nyc.gov/taxi, and anyone interested in participating is encouraged do so either through the Web site, via US Mail at NYC TLC, 40 Rector Street, 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10006; via Fax at 212-676-1002, or by e-mail at policymail@tlc.nyc.gov.

Equally exciting is the fact that the TLC’s Board of Commissioners this week approved a package of “For-Hire Vehicle Accountability Rules” that will enhance passenger safety and customer service while further professionalizing the for-hire vehicle industry.  One of the many important goals of these rules is to attempt to eradicate unlicensed activity once and for all.  These reforms include:

  • Enhanced markings for community car service and other for-hire Vehicles (FHVs) to assist passengers in identifying properly-licensed vehicles;
  • Periodic inspection of FHVs at the TLC’s own state-of-the-art Safety & Emissions inspection facility;
  • A point-based system that will hold FHV bases accountable for their affiliated vehicles and the actions of their drivers;
  • The clear display of TLC driver licenses in all FHVs;
  • The requirement that FHV bases to quote passengers a firm price for a ride that will not change after it is quoted;
  • The posting of a Livery Passenger Bill of Rights.

I must say quite frankly that the process leading up to the formulation of the final version of this package has constituted the longest and most inclusive rulemaking process the agency has ever undertaken.  There are many passionate stakeholders in the FHV industry, including leaders who are fiercely protective of their many thousands of constituents.  It has been a personally gratifying experience to sit at the table with many of these leaders to work together to find the ways that this package of rules could work best to accomplish their mission of enhanced professional, customer service and safety, but to also be fair and reasonable to our regulated businesses and licensees. 

In particular, I would like to thank the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers - especially the leadership of its Founder/Spokesman, Fernando Mateo, as well as its President Jose Villoria and Executive Director Frenchie Muniz – with whom we worked so closely to make many important changes to the rules.  In addition, I would like to thank many of the other industry groups who have expressed their support for the rules, after many changes had been made based upon a long public comment period and countless meetings, including: LBOA (Luxury Base Operators’ Association); BCLAG

(Black Car and Limousine Assistance Group); NYLA (New York Limousine Association); LANJ (Limousine Association of New Jersey); LANY (Limousine Association of New York); United as One Base Owners’ Association; the NYC Fleet Livery Owners Association, Inc.; and the NYC For-Hire Base Group. 

This was a rulemaking process that started with some of the reforms being heard at a public hearing held about two years ago, and culminating with extensive outreach over the last year, including consultation with all industry groups, leaders and anyone who wished to voice an opinion.  I would like to thank TLC Assistant Commissioner Samara Epstein and her Office of Constituent Affairs, which spearheaded the outreach, listened to everyone and attended community meetings, industry board meetings and events to ensure that the widest dissemination of information about the proposed rules took place.  I am proud of our TLC Commissioners who voted to make these rules a reality, especially the leadership of Commissioner Ed Gonzales and Staten Island Commissioner Elias Arout, who both expended many additional hours calling for, refining and orchestrating these reforms. 

Before the rules are finalized and published, our Board of Commissioners voted on April 16th to allow for an additional two (2) weeks to receive any additional feedback from anyone who wishes to contact us.  The rules are posted, with summary handbooks and materials on our website (in English and Spanish), and anyone can call our Constituent Affairs Office at 212-676-1055 or e-mail  Assistant Commissioner Samara Epstein at samara.epstein@tlc.nyc.gov to schedule an appointment, obtain materials, voice your opinion (verbally and/or in writing), or to simply ask questions.

Until next time……..Happy Spring!

Pictured, the NYS Federation of Taxi Drivers and representatives of its many member bases appear with TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus (at podium) to express their support for the TLC’s For-Hire Vehicle Accountability Rules package, which was the main topic of the Commission’s most recent public meeting.

Pictured, the NYS Federation of Taxi Drivers and representatives of its many member bases appear with TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus (at podium) to express their support for the TLC’s For-Hire Vehicle Accountability Rules package, which was the main topic of the Commission’s most recent public meeting. 

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