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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

February 2010

Let me begin by saying to all those in the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s regulated industries whose lives have been personally touched by the earthquake in Haiti – and I know that there are many thousands of you – that our thoughts and prayers are with you.  We will circle back to this most important of topics later in the column, but I did want to say that from the outset.

I do want to take a moment to remind all of our driver licensees – and that means medallion taxicab, livery, black car, commuter van AND paratransit drivers – that the new Distracted Driving rules will be in full effect as of January 29, 2010.  Just so that there is no confusion – this means that the use of any and all portable electronic equipment that is capable of distracting someone from being 100% focused on the road, and on their passengers, is prohibited.  What does this mean, precisely?  It means say goodbye to the Bluetooth device and other wired or wireless connections to a cell phone or Blackberry – you can no longer even have a Bluetooth device near your ear! No portable game systems, no Blackberrys, nothing that can steal your attention away from where it should be!

Prepare yourself – while the monetary fines are the same as they have been for the last decade -- $200 for each offense – this violation is now a true “three strikes and you’re out”.  More precisely – if you are found guilty of this violation three times within a 15-month period – your TLC license WILL BE REVOKED.

So the message is – prepare yourself, because the time has come to put an end to cell phone abuse once and for all – BEFORE there is a tragedy that we will all regret.

Yet another innovation that will be in full “motion” by the time some of you will read these words is the TLC’s Group Ride Pilot Program, and so I wanted to take a few moments to take you all through how it will work.

Very basically, there will be a number of Group Ride Stands located at various places throughout the City, as determined by public demand for yellow taxicab service, where up to four passengers may be transported to a common destination and “hop out” anywhere along a pre-determined route.  The fare from the pick-up to the drop-off locations will be a flat fare of $3 or $4, depending on location.

There will be three stands initially (see the chart below) that will be in operation between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. on weekdays, with others joining them in the near future at Grand Central Station, Penn Station and the Port Authority Terminal.  There will also soon be stands in operation offering Group Rides from the Marine Air and US Airways terminals at LaGuardia Airport to tranasport multiple passengers to Manhattan.

I know that sometimes in the taxicab industry a very human reluctance to try new things, but I am optimistic that, if you try the group ride experience, you will like it.  It boils down to this -- more money for drivers, and less money for passengers!  As Mayor Bloomberg himself said last year when he conceived of these ideas, “What’s not to like?”

Pick-Up Location
End Point
Fare / person
W 57th St / 8th Ave 57th St to Park Ave/ 42nd St. – along Park Avenue $ 3.00
E 72nd St / 3rd Ave Park Ave Park Ave / 42nd St. – Along Park Avenue $ 4.00
W 72nd St/Columbus Park Ave / 42nd St. – Along Park Avenue $ 4.00

Of course, all the aforementioned news and reminders aside, the thing that is on everyone’s minds is the almost unspeakable tragedy unfolding in Haiti.  There are no words for the horrors people have been experiencing there, so I will not even attempt to characterize it here in this space; though I will state my belief that the video we have been seeing fails to convey even the tiniest fraction of the suffering this disaster has and will cause.

All that having been said, I find myself once again humbled by the humanity on display here at home thanks to people like Fernando Mateo and the members of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers.  As I write these words, the earthquake is only a few days in the past, but already, Fernando and the Federation have collected significant funds and tons of needed supplies.  I am told that the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade (MTBOT) is likewise mobilizing to assist victims, and so bravo and well done to them as well.

Of course, the Bloomberg Administration responded quickly and decisively to the catastrophic events as well, with Mayor Bloomberg announcing that New York Task Force One, New York City's Federal Emergency Management Agency-sponsored (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue team made up of specially-trained personnel from the New York City Police and Fire Departments, has been activated and deployed to Haiti to assist with relief efforts.  Almost a half million dollars have been raised thus far by the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City
(By phone: 212-788-7794, or make checks payable to: Mayor's Fund
and mail to: One Centre Street, 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10007
Note: Haiti Relief).  If you have any questions about how you can help, and I know you will want to -- just call 311 or visit www.nyc.gov.

Before closing, I just wanted reiterate how proud I am to be associated with industries made up of such truly caring and dedicated individuals.  The response to the tragedy in Haiti by these men and women has been every bit as miraculous as some of the stories of survival that we have been hearing.  While I hope and pray that those miracles keep coming – I have no doubt that the caring and compassionate resolve of our industry members will continue to inspire us all.

Until next month………….

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