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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

August 2010

Since we last spoke, the MTA has done what it has long promised to do, and has cut dozens of subway and bus routes, leaving more than 10,000 city residents scrambling for a way to recreate their commute in a way that approximates the service they once enjoyed.  As Mayor Bloomberg points out, this is not the MTA’s fault, but rather the result of a simple mathematical formula – less money = less service.

While mass transit has and will remain the primary purview of the State, this does not mean that there aren’t some progressive ideas that can take root in City government, which is precisely why Mayor Bloomberg, Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and I have announced a plan to let group-ride van services help New Yorkers to replace some of their lost commuting options.  The idea builds on the "commuter vans" that are active in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, but with the important differences that these vans will pick up and discharge passengers at fixed stops, rather than roaming freely as the commuter vans do.  This will be a "pilot program" -- we'll try it in at least a half-dozen locations and expand the concept if it succeeds.

I am pleased to report that the TLC’s Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the program today (July 15), and a notice of solicitation for interested service providers will be distributed very shortly.  We anticipate the service being up and running on or around August 16, 2010.

As we said when announcing the plan, there were only two options…..do nothing, which means leaving thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom already experience the frustration of living in a working-class community with limited transportation options, or try something new…..something different; something untried.  From where we stand, doing nothing is simply not an option.

I recently co-authored an opinion-editorial with Deputy Mayor Goldsmith about this program with the goal of informing people about it, and the feedback has been highly positive.

But that column was really aimed at the riding public.  In this space, which of course is largely read by our driver licensees, what I really want to talk about is the impressive complementary role played by the TLC’s regulated industries.  If you really think about how people move around in New York City, you will see that the list of passengers quite neatly divvied up between taxis/FHVs and subways/buses.  In fact, TLC-regulated industries move about 1.2 million people per day to the MTA’s 3-odd million.

The reason why I mention this is that, for the most part, this “comprehensive transportation network”, of which the TLC’s six regulated industries are so important a component, is a fairly robust thing, allowing for tweaks, or emergencies here and there…..with passengers figuring out clever ways to skirt temporary inconveniences due to the occasional track fire, or stalled buses, etc.  But this time, the stakes are higher.  The aforementioned cuts have truly changed the dynamic, with some people having to do far more than just skirting some temporary inconvenience.  One of the great advantages of having a comprehensive transportation network, however, is that it sometimes has the flexibility to serve people in new and better ways that never before existed, and this van program is a perfect example of this.

It’s my belief that, by seeing ourselves as components of the larger whole in this way, we can really open up our thought process to ways in which we can serve people better while improving the dynamic for drivers and the industries they support, too.  In the case of group rides, that improvement is a simple one…..drivers have the capacity to earn more per ride.

The bottom line, as I see it, is that we all – collectively – have an ongoing opportunity to do try and help our neighbors to the best of our ability…..let’s take these opportunities and run (or rather drive) with them.

Take care and stay cool!

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