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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

January 2011

Let me begin by sharing with you all our grateful thanks that livery driver Trevor Bell survived the savage attack he suffered.  Our thoughts are with his wife and children at this very difficult time.

I know that this horrific crime against Mr. Bell has sparked some controversial discussion, and I will not speak those controversies in the same breath as I offer prayer for his rapid recovery.  I will, however, take this brief moment to say that New York City’s taxicab and for-hire vehicle industries are legendary for their understanding that ours is a city of many faces and many lives, as they are legendary for the service they provide to those who make up this great city.  I don’t see either of things changing any time soon.

As I write this column, we’re sandwiched between an eventful City Council hearing at which we announced a superior “next generation” version of our accessible dispatch program, and a press conference with Mayor Bloomberg, MTA CEO Jay Walder, and several deputy mayors at which we will be announcing a pilot program involving pre-paid debit cards with which non-wheelchair user Access-A-Ride customers may take taxicabs in place of far more expensive rides in accessible vans.

If that doesn’t illustrate how much is going on these days, we began this week by unveiling a new taxi relief stand on Park Row in front of J&R Music World (see the accompanying photo), where taxi drivers may leave their vehicles for up to an hour, use a clean restroom and enjoy a cup of free premium coffee, thanks to the kind people at J&R and the Downtown Alliance, which helped us make the stand possible.  Enjoy it!

I should also point out that, by the time you read this, chances are you will have heard that the TLC voted on a “new” dress code, but here’s the “inside baseball” on that.  In fact, the taxi industry has had a dress code for many years – since the mid-1980s in fact – though it has rarely been invoked.  This existing dress code was quite specific, and a product of its time, requiring drivers to avoid wearing tank or tube tops, cut-off shorts, swim trunks, or underwear as outerwear, among other things.  The new rule proposes to remove the specifics, and simply requires drivers to dress neatly and professionally.  What does that mean?  Not too complicated – it simply means that, whatever clothes you wear should be neat and clean.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact that, for the past several years, we’ve been working on a rules review project that has been re-organizing our various rulebooks, restructuring the regulations in a more logical way, and tweaking the language so that it’s easier to understand and comply with.  This proposed dress code is just one of hundreds of instances where the rules are being re-written in a clearer, more concise manner.  The New York Times, however, always on the lookout for a “quirky” New York kind of story, made the proposed language a cover story.  Not surprisingly, the dress code proposal was on everyone’s lips within a few short hours.

While this has really never been a problem (the TLC has issued a grand total of 46 summonses for this in the last 14 years), and we don’t anticipate it ever being one, I was grateful that it aimed a spotlight on our rules review project.  No, it’s not the kind of “stop the presses!” news that some other of our projects generally are, but allow me a minute to crow.  In fact, the TLC’s rules review project is the first top to bottom assessment of an agency’s regulations anywhere in government.  Think about it…..in the TLC’s 38-year history, hundreds of rules have been written by different hands, and while these rules have been categorized and placed as well and as logically could be expected over these decades, each of these rules was looked at as an individual thing.  This rules review project looks at the rules in the context of the whole…..correcting situations where things that belonged together were separated, and re-writing things that weren’t consistent from industry to industry.  We held many public hearings on the various changes, and I am proud to say the process inspired an extraordinary amount of participatory input and feedback from all of our regulated industries.  What will come of this is a vastly superior rulebook for each of our industries, and a set of smarter, easier to understand regulations that will be in effect as of next April.

It’s just one of those funny, ironic things that it took a story about the dress code to shine a light on the rules review project, but the fact is, this is as good as it gets for an exercise in good government, and precisely the kind of thing we should be doing to make things easier for our licensees.

So, if you’ll pardon me for rambling a bit, I wanted to share with you what’s been going on these past few weeks.  What a year it’s been.....eventful to the last drop!

I wish you and your families all a most happy, healthy and joyous holiday season!

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