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September 2009

As regular readers of this column know, the International Association of Transportation Regulators (IATR) is an organization made up of taxicab and for-hire transportation regulators from around the world who work closely on issues of importance to jurisdictions both near and far.  There has been a lot of buzz about the IATR’s New York City Conference, coming up in only a few short weeks in mid-September at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott Hotel.  Deservedly so, however, as there have been a few interesting twists and turns to various aspects of the three-day event.  One such twist is the fact that we are privileged to be welcoming a Special Guest moderator – none other than the world-famous David Pogue – for the Taxicab Technology Panel discussion scheduled for Day One of the Conference, which is Monday, September 14.

His millions of fans know him as the Personal Technology columnist for the New York Times, an Emmy Award-winning technology correspondent for CBS News, the bestselling author of several books in the “For Dummies” series as well as the creator of his own “Missing Manual” series of books.  A hugely popular writer, podcaster and blogger, an accomplished musician and magician, and a raconteur to be reckoned with, these are just a few of his career highlights!  If Mr. Pogue’s participation inspires you to attend this extraordinary conference, even if only for the day that he is with us, details are just a click away at www.IATR.org!

Another such twist is the fact that we have yet another musical virtuoso participating in our International Driver Recognition Day Ceremony (more about this later in the column!), on Wednesday, September 16, and his name is Hahn-Bin.  For those of you who have not read or heard the many newspaper, TV and radio accounts of Hahn’s tale of potential woe, I will explain that about 36 hours ago at the time of this writing, Hahn-Bin was about to arrive at Lincoln Center after a grueling 3-hour bus ride from the Hamptons following a concert with his mentor Itzhak Perlman.  Hahn hopped into a taxicab, and headed for his apartment in Chinatown.  Once home, he took a quick shower, laid down for a moment, and was suddenly gripped with the horrible realization that his prized violin was nowhere to be seen.  He quickly realized that the instrument must still have been in the taxicab he took from Lincoln Center.  Now, when someone usually says the word “prized,” it could mean something of great sentimental value, significant monetary value, or a combination of the two, but for Hahn-Bin, saying that his instrument is “prized” is an understatement.

The violin, on loan to him from a patron, was made by one of the greatest violin makers known to have lived, Giovanni Francesco Pressenda (1777-1854), and can be valued at up to $600,000.  Somewhat short of the $2.4 million value of Yo-Yo Ma’s famed 1733 Montagnana cello, or Lyn Harrell’s $4 million 1673 Stradivarius, but still valuable enough to qualify for membership in this rather exclusive club!  What happened next is a true testament to the seamless government that Mayor Michael Bloomberg had in mind when he created New York City’s 311 government services hotline concept. Hahn-Bin called 311, and 311 handed him off to the NYPD.  He was soon in the very capable hands of Detective Ming Lee of the 5th Police Precinct, who very wisely called the Technology Unit of the Taxi and Limousine Commission.  Once details about the time and location of Hahn-Bin’s pick-up and drop-off was shared, it took less than an hour to isolate the unique taxi ride in question, and find the contact information for the driver.

What happened next was a true first…….the driver, Dalbir Singh, was sleeping, but awoke to both telephone and text messages asking that he check his back seat, where the violin, in its case, was untouched since the night before.  In other words, for the first time, GPS allowed the TLC to find a lost item before the driver himself knew about it!  Within minutes, TLC personnel were on their way to pick-up and safeguard Mr. Bin’s belongings.  Just two hours later, I was able to personally place the violin back in Mr. Bin’s hands and congratulate TLC Systems Implementation Analyst Sam Shady, TLC Confidential Investigator Azam Kifaieh, and NYPD Detective Ming Lee for making this happy ending possible.  (As a side note, while we technically found the violin before Mr. Singh was even awake, this is not the first time he has helped us to find some precious lost property, and accordingly, we will be considering him for appropriate honors).

The PS to the story is that, not only did Hahn-Bin treat us to an impromptu performance of Kreisler and Chopin, but he agreed to perform at the IATR International Driver Recognition Day ceremonies, along with Ann Roggen (who lost a precious viola that was found last year) and hopefully other musicians.  Less musical, but no less magical, is the fact that Ben Bailey, the star/host of Discovery Channel’s successful TV game show Cash Cab will be there to “tell it like it is” from a cabbie’s perspective.  As famous and as popular as Ben gets, he remains a good friend who has always been there for the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s Driver Recognition Days, and will keep the tradition alive now that it has gone international!

So, now that so much has been said about who is entertaining us at the IATR International Driver Recognition Day Ceremony, it is only right to talk a little about what and why it is – as promised!

Simply put, it is our job as regulators to encourage our driver-licensees to do their very best every day via the rules, regulations, enforcement and guidance that we offer them, and to which they must adhere.  It is also the reason why, eight years ago, I launched the Driver Recognition Program to acknowledge drivers who have demonstrated a high level of performance in one way or another.  The program began humbly, with passengers receiving letters of thanks for their taking the time to let us know about their exemplary driver, and the drivers themselves receiving hand-written notes of gratitude and encouragement.  It evolved into lavish events where as many as 350 drivers have been fully recognized at what became the TLC’s Annual Driver Recognition Ceremony.  In my view, as important as it is to enforce the TLC’s regulations, it is equally important to provide incentives for drivers to perform their duties in an exemplary manner.

As mentioned above, that concept has evolved yet again into something with a more worldwide view, as part of the International Association of Transportation Regulators’ (IATR) annual Conference, which New York City will proudly host during the week of September 12, 2009.  One of the culminating events at this technology-themed conference, to be held during a special luncheon on September 16, will be the IATR’s International Driver Recognition Day, during which we will honor outstanding drivers from New York City and from around the nation and abroad, and congratulate their visiting regulators for inspiring them. 

I look forward to greeting our government regulator colleagues, our industry members and our exemplary drivers in Brooklyn in September, for a successful and informative conference!

Until next time………

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