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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

November 2009

Perhaps you have already read some of the extensive coverage on this…..the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) announced this past week that it is proposing to take unprecedented action to protect driver licensees and passengers, and ban the use of all distractive portable technology in taxicabs and for-hire vehicles that fall under the TLC’s regulatory umbrella.  The reasons for taking these actions could not be more grounded in common sense, facts, and science.

The proposal, more specifically, is to prohibit the use of any equipment that has the potential to distract a driver from any of the TLC’s regulated industries, and broadly defines such equipment to encompass the universe of communications and entertainment electronics.  While we are all very familiar with these items today, either they did not exist in the same configurations, or, in the case of Bluetooth technology, they did not exist at all a decade ago when we were the first regulators anywhere to prohibit the use of handheld and hands-free cell phone use while driving.  So, it made sense to update the rules to reflect modern realities.  It was also an opportunity to create rules to coincide with the newly-minted state law prohibiting texting while driving.

Aside from the logic of bringing these regulations into the 21st century, let’s be frank here for a moment…..the existing rules are flouted with alarming regularity. I cannot go anywhere as Commissioner of the TLC, and I mean anywhere, without hearing the words, “……and the driver was on his cell phone for the whole ride!”

First, there is the safety issue.  It is an understatement to say that there are many studies on the subject of distracted driving, completed by a combination of scholarly institutions and government entities, which have come to some very common conclusions.  At best, these studies have determined that driving while distracted by a cell phone – even hands-free – or by some kind of texting device, puts the driver, their passengers, and everyone in the vicinity of their vehicle in significant danger.  At worst, these studies liken distracted driving with driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol.  What this means in very real terms is that these new rules would protect the driver as much as it protects passengers, pedestrians and other motorists.

There is also a significant customer service component at work here.  Passengers pay a premium fare for a premium service when they choose to take a taxicab or for-hire vehicle instead of mass transit, and they deserve to know that, with the qualified exception of a true emergency call, their professional driver is focusing 100% of their attention on driving and their needs.

I have said this to reporters, and to people in the industry, and I will say it again here, I fully understand and appreciate that the job of taxicab or for-hire vehicle driver is difficult and sometimes lonely.  I get it.  I truly do get the idea that a cell phone opens a door to family and friends, and it allows someone who spends 12 hours on the road to be connected to everyone and everything they feel isolated from.  The thing is, though, safety comes first, and customer service comes in a close second.  To help put this into perspective, there are any number of jobs in the service industry that we can all readily think of that do NOT allow for spontaneous cell phone calls or texting…..the cashier, the shop clerk, the waitperson…..you get the idea.  The point is, they take a break, they check their voicemail, and they return the calls they may have missed.  There is a time and a place for having a cell phone conversation or a texting session, and it is not while driving or with a paying passenger.

I understand that these rules are controversial and will ruffle some feathers.  Every good and valuable thing the TLC has done has come with its share of controversy.  I am calling on everyone who reads these words, however, to give it some fresh thought.  Think beyond what is convenient, and think beyond what is easy.  Think about what makes sense.  Think about what the studies say, and then think about how happy your family is to see you when you come home at night.

Before closing, I did want to take a moment to remind everyone of the 50-cent per ride State tax that will be in effect as of November 1, 2009.  In addition to the meter adjustment that will be necessary for every taxicab to reflect the new surcharge, there is a new fare sticker for taxicab doors that is in production and is available as we speak, and there is a list of authorized printers on the TLC’s Web site at: www.nyc.gov/tlc under “Safety & Emissions” and “New Taxicab Logo.”  You should also know that the NYS Bureau of Weights and Measures has determined that no new mile run is necessary following the meter adjustment.

I should also take this opportunity to remind everyone reading this that the fare sticker is an important part of the taxicab’s design……so please be careful and do it right!

Please remember that the law says taxicab drivers can only charge a passenger what is on the meter.  If the tax is not reflected on the meter, it cannot be reflected in the fare…..it’s as simple as that.

Until next month, enjoy what’s left of the fall!

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