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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

January 2010

I am pleased to begin this column with some exciting news!  After much time and considerable effort, the TLC has released the Taxi of Tomorrow Request For Proposals, bringing us one step closer to the design and manufacture of a new, purpose-built taxicab that will serve drivers and passengers as no taxi ever before.  Aside from the goals of universal access and cost-effective, clean-fuel operation, we anticipate the introduction of a taxicab that will keep drivers comfortable and safe, while offering passengers the ultimate taxicab experience.  Prospective respondents will be able to access the RFP through the TLC’s Web site at www.nyc.gov/taxi. A pre-proposal conference will be held on January 14, 2010 at 10 a.m. at 100 Gold Street (8th floor), Manhattan, with a teleconferencing option for those who will not be able to attend.  The due date for proposal submission is 2 p.m. on March 26, 2010.  The TLC anticipates the conclusion of the selection process to be followed by the signing of a contract by October 2010, and that the first vehicles would be available for service starting in 2013.  Exciting times!

Speaking of exciting times, on January 15, 2009, in his State of the City address, Mayor Bloomberg asked the TLC to “experiment with a common sense idea that will help New Yorkers stretch their own dollars further: the option of taking multiple-fare taxi and livery rides from, for example, airports and other locations.  Riders will save money and drivers will make money.  It’s a win-win – what’s not to like?”  I wholeheartedly agree – and so did the TLC’s Board of Commissioners, who voted unanimously on May 28, 2009 to approve two distinct pilot programs to fulfill the Mayor’s vision.  In the intervening months, we have worked closely with many stakeholders to ensure that the above-mentioned programs work best for all concerned.  The reason why these programs are topical today is that, after months of intensive efforts, they are coming to exciting fruition!

Of course, many of those reading this column will recall quite vividly that the Group Ride Taxi Stand Pilot Program was in some ways inspired by the City’s critically-acclaimed and editorially-supported emergency response to the 2005 Transit Strike.  The program focuses on improving yellow taxicab efficiency during peak hours, when passenger demand is at its highest.  The group rides will allow two (2) to four (4) passengers to share a taxi ride from one of the (current) six newly-established taxi stands.  The taxicab will travel along a designated corridor to a final destination for a flat fare which is, on average, over 40% lower than the standard metered fare.  More to the point for the readers of this column, each of these trips will also be increasing the driver’s earnings by an estimated 60%.  Thanks to our Taxicab Passenger Enhancement Project, we were able to use GPS enabled electronic trip sheet data to analyze ridership trends, allowing us to choose locations and flat fare rates based on the concentration of pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as average taxi fares paid.  In other words, passengers pay less and drivers make more.  Just like the Mayor said – a “win-win for everybody.”

Six locations were approved by the TLC’s Board of Commissioners for the program, the first three of which are West 57th Street & 8th Avenue, West 72nd Street & Columbus, and East 72nd Street and 3rd Avenue.  The rides originating from these stands will travel south on Park Avenue, allowing passengers to exit the taxi anywhere along this corridor as far south as 42nd Street.  The fares will be $4 per passenger at the 72nd Street stands, and $3 per passenger at the 57th Street stand.  We hope to see these three locations in operation in the very near future.

A second group of taxi stands, which are expected to be operational in early 2010, will originate from several of Manhattan’s major transportation hubs.  Passengers from Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal will be able to travel north on  6th Avenue as far as 59th Street, and once again may exit the taxi anywhere along 6th Avenue prior to the final destination.  The fares will be $3 per passenger at the Grand Central and Port Authority Bus Terminal, and $4 per passenger at the Penn Station stand.  We are also looking to develop additional group ride stands at LaGuardia Airport.

Among the considerable benefits for drivers, I believe, is the fact that this plan will in no way take business away from drivers who do not participate.  There’s no requirement for anyone to provide group rides, though it is my belief that, after trying it a few times, they will very much want to participate – and often!

The Livery Stand Pilot Program will allow owners or operators of private property at locations within shopping centers, Business Improvement Districts, and other well-trafficked locations to contract with livery bases to provide transportation services on-site via a “satellite base.”  This pilot program will test the use of licensed livery vehicles and livery stands to enhance service to passengers, providing for more prompt, efficient, accountable and reliable dispatched service from satellite base locations.  On December 1, 2009, the TLC released a Notice of Opportunity to Participate in the livery stand pilot program.  Until the deadline of January 15, 2010, the TLC will receive pilot program proposals from private property owners (or their representatives) and community car services, who will partner with one another to establish “satellite” base stands on private property.  Aside from the obvious customer service advantages, the TLC believes that this will have a marked effect on curbing unlicensed and illegal activity at some of the most active locations in the five boroughs.  The Commission voted to approve the pilot program without limitation on the number of participants; however, our goal is to establish at least two (2) stands in each borough.  The pilot program will last for one (1) year.

Of course, with the holiday season upon us – where both New Yorkers and tourists flood our streets to shop and sightsee – this increased demand for ground transportation often leads increased illegal for-hire activity; so I would like to share with you our efforts to confront this problem on several fronts, to both support our licensed, legitimate service providers as well as to keep our passengers safe.

In one example of these efforts, I recently had the great pleasure of appearing with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Chris Ward to announce the arrest by both TLC and Port Authority Police Officers of 18 individuals at JFK and LaGuardia Airports for illegal solicitation.  Our joint efforts were bolstered by the governor’s recent signing into law of what has become known as the “Anti-Hustling Bill”, a piece of legislation that the TLC, the Port Authority and our regulated industries, among others, have fought valiantly to see created, and which for the first time criminalizes the act of airport hustling.  This is a law with real teeth, and which potentially results in jail time as well as a hefty monetary fine for violations.  This follows closely on the heels of the arrest of six airport taxi dispatchers in late October at JFK Airport on charges of accepting cash payments from taxi drivers who wanted to go directly to terminals to pick up passengers instead of to the central taxi holding area where drivers often wait long periods before being moved to the terminals.    The investigation in this case, which the TLC initiated, is continuing and we anticipate more arrests at some point.  Before closing, I wanted to provide fair notice that the TLC will be out in force during the holiday season – conducting a Zero Tolerance operation in the Central Business District of Manhattan, targeting cell phone abuse and illegal livery activity.

I also want to take a moment to talk about the implementation of our new For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) industry rules, which continue to be extremely well-received by the riding public.  As most readers of this column are aware, it has been more than six months since they were enacted; six months very well spent, we believe, in continuing our aggressive outreach efforts, and in working closely with the For-Hire Vehicle industry to prepare for compliance.  The time has now come for the FHV industry to demonstrate its readiness.  Sometime between January 1 and 31, 2010, the TLC will commence enforcement of the new regulations, so the message is -- BE READY!  I recommend that all FHV industry members reading this column take this opportunity to review the TLC’s comprehensive Web site segment devoted to the new FHV rules, and reach out to us with any questions they may have.  The more you know, the better we’ll be able to work together to continue to make ours the best For-Hire Vehicle industry in the world!

Until next time, I would like to wish you and your families all a Happy and Healthy Holiday Season!

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