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COMMISSIONER'S COLUMN

February 2011

Let me begin this month by acknowledging the passing of a well-known figure in the taxicab industry.  I am sorry to say that we lost Alan B. Decker, a prominent longtime industry attorney and the publisher of the Mini Press newspaper, this past Saturday.  I’m told by those who’ve known him for many years that the “rustic” feel of the little newspaper was very much like Mr. Decker himself…..he famously eschewed technology, never using e-mail or computers (drawing the line at a fax machine), hence the manual layout of the newspaper.  The paper may have been small, but it had a very loud voice….often raised against the policies of the TLC, yes, but always raised in advocacy of the industry’s owners and drivers.  It could be said that Mr. Decker sometimes played the role of a curmudgeon, but he could always be counted upon for a friendly but spirited conversation or debate, something I was privileged to learn firsthand when I was fortunate enough to have sat and chatted for several hours shortly after I came to the TLC.  His voice will be missed.

I am pleased to note that the “alleged” perpetrator of the attack on Mr. Trevor Bell has been captured.  While Mr. Bell is still facing difficulties in his recovery from this vicious December 3 attack, it is some small comfort that this individual will be off the streets, and facing charges including attempted murder.  The “alleged” attacker, who was connected to more than a dozen additional robberies of liveries and fast food establishments, was found cowering in a friend’s home in Buffalo, New York.  I just want to reiterate my wishes for a full recovery for Mr. Bell, and thank the NYPD for working so diligently toward the successful capture of this dangerous thug.

Changing gears, I’m sure many of you read the New York Times article this week about the afternoon shift change phenomenon, with data that finally took the issue from the realm of urban myth to empirical reality.  Of course, this is a “duh” moment for the majority of those reading this column.  You all know why it’s more difficult for people to find a cab between 4 and 5 p.m.  It’s hardly a secret that the taxi industry has to cater to both shifts of drivers with a busy rush hour, but for the public, it’s a bit like talking about the weather…..everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it!

Old jokes aside, the first thing that happens after an article like that is, people start calling, blogging, e-mailing, etc., and saying, “why don’t you just make the taxi industry stagger their shift changes!”  My answer, by the way, when asked that very question by the Times reporter, as quoted, was that the City “should be circumspect about substituting its judgment for the judgment of business people”, and that’s how I truly feel about it.  The men and women of the taxi industry have done this for a long time, and the conventional wisdom is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”  But that said, the numbers really are quite compelling…..in the 4 p.m. hour, there are 8,243 taxicabs with one or more trips per hour (62% of the fleet), as compared to 9,082, or 69%, in the 3 p.m. hour, and 9,064 (also roughly 69%) in the 5 p.m. hour.  From there, it ramps up to 78% and 79%, respectively, in the 6 and 7 p.m. hours.  I get it, that there has to be some downtime while getting the vehicle ready for the next shift so that the industry can make the impressive showing that it does in the evening rush, but at the same time, it’s also true that there are enough people who want a cab between 4 and 5 p.m. to keep the conversation about how tough it is to get a cab alive and well.  I’m sure that there isn’t a single person reading this who hasn’t gotten the complaint from family or friends……”why can’t I get a cab at 4 p.m.?”  And it certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Dave Lettermans and Jay Lenos of the world!

The bottom line is, this isn’t something I want to pump up and make bigger than it really is.  But it is something that the TLC should open a dialogue with the industry about, because if it’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that you all care as much about your passengers as we do…..and we all want to keep them happy.

Until next month, stay well….and stay warm!

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