By Meera Joshi
Hello, everyone… I hope you are all doing well and making the most out of your summer. There’s no rest for the weary here at the TLC, so let’s get into what’s been going on since my last column.
The TLC has been working with Commuter Van operators to educate their passengers about licensed service. One way that we’re doing that is by hosting outreach events at popular Commuter Van pick-up locations. At each event, TLC staff hand out detailed information to passengers with some simple ways to differentiate between licensed and unlicensed service.
So far we’ve successfully held three such events – one in Flushing, one in Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue, and most recently, on July 2 at Confucius Plaza on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, at which Council Members Margaret Chin and Peter Koo helped us help their constituents make good decisions about using safe, licensed vans at the newly-installed commuter van stand on Division Street near the Bowery intersection.
These events have also given us an opportunity to showcase the new commuter van decals, which were part of a very successful pilot program. Following on the pilot’s success, as well as the positive feedback we’ve heard from both the industry and passengers, the TLC’s Board of Commissioners today (July 16) voted unanimously to make the piloted decals a permanent fixture on all TLC-licensed Commuter Vans.
We also held a public hearing today to hear perspectives on a number of proposed changes to our fare and lease cap rules, which were largely centered on protecting our driver-licensees. Some of the rule changes would include allowing “all-in” leases to extend the lease terms beyond the current 156-week maximum, enabling lease-holders to make smaller weekly payments, and limiting the total amount of the vehicle lease the same amount that exists today. We also proposed removing the optional gas surcharge and permitting non-cash payments from lessors (medallion owners or agents) to drivers so long as there is an assurance that the alternate payment method comes at no cost to the driver. Finally, to make JFK Airport runs more equitable for drivers during the afternoon rush hours of 4 to 8 p.m., we proposed an additional $4.50 surcharge for JFK flat fares to make drivers whole for the $1 surcharges they are missing in Manhattan during those hours.
You can learn more about these proposed rules at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/downloads/pdf/proposed_rules_fare_and_leasecap_2015.pdf or you can watch the entire archived public hearing at www.livestream.com/nyctaxi.
On Sunday, July 12, New York City held its first-ever Disability Pride Parade to celebrate the strength and commitment of our fellow New Yorkers with disabilities, which coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). With a crowd of more than 3,000, the parade kicked off at Madison Square Park with a pre-parade show and rally, featuring live musical performances and remarks from Mayor Bill de Blasio, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities Victor Calise, and the “father” of the ADA himself, Senator Tom Harkin.
The TLC is extremely proud to have participated in this historic event. Increasing transportation options for persons with disabilities has long been a top priority for the TLC, and so we felt very much at home. FYI, we have committed to increasing the number of wheelchair accessible yellow taxis in our fleet to 50% by 2020 and we are on track and on schedule for getting there. Starting January 2016, we will begin phasing in the 213 unrestricted yellow medallions selected during an accessibility drawing which was held on June 25, 2015.
We are also looking to expand upon our current Accessible Dispatch Program, which services passengers who have a pick-up location within Manhattan or JFK and LGA airports. We have issued an RFP seeking for a qualified vendor to administer a Citywide Accessible Dispatch Program, which we hope to launch in January 2016. The Citywide Dispatch Program will build off of the success of the current program that has completed more than 70,000 trips since its launch in September 2012.
Speaking of greater access for persons with disabilities, the TLC was honored to have participated this week in the fantastic “Access to Independence” event, organized by our sister agencies the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities (MOPD) and DOT, where dozens of exhibitors introduced people to the very latest products and services available to help persons with disabilities get around and live their lives more safely, fully and conveniently. Great job, as always, by my colleagues MOPD Commissioners Victor Calise, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and their staff! Kudos, too, to TLC staffers Patrick Joyce, Nicole Payne and Bella Vais, who represented us well.
This week also gave us an opportunity to underscore -- in the strongest way possible – the crucial work we do to achieve the goals of Vision Zero. On Tuesday, July 14, Families for Safe Streets held the first-ever Vigil for Vision Zero, at which we paused to mourn those killed in traffic crashes this year, and rededicate ourselves to the mission of ending traffic deaths injuries. Over a thousand people jammed Union Square North, wearing yellow t-shirts, holding carnations commemorating the victims of what the group has termed “traffic violence,” with many holding pictures of loved ones lost to crashes over the years. A recurring theme of the vigil was the message “Crash NOT Accident” – which is something that we too have made clear in our communications about Vision Zero. Using the word accident suggests that something wasn’t preventable and we know quite well that crashes are preventable with responsible driving, and a true understanding of the awesome responsibility we have when we’re behind the wheel.
Most of you reading these words are professional drivers, and the vast overwhelming majority of you do an amazing job under what are often the most difficult and demanding circumstances, but we must never, EVER, give in to the temptation to let our frustrations out in our driving. We must likewise never ever be in such a hurry that we sacrifice caring and responsibility for the meager savings of a moment or two. Let me tell you from personal experience, just look into the eyes of a parent who has lost a child to the carelessness of a driver, and you will know and understand that your life can be changed forever in that moment you think you are saving by speeding or driving recklessly.
Once again, I was glad to see all those families who worked with us so closely and so givingly of themselves to help us create the film “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here.” It was their eyes that have been such an inspiration, and such a living affirmation that everything we are doing in the name of Vision Zero is time and effort very well spent.
Please, just take 15 minutes to see “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here” for the first time, or even to see it for a second or third time, and look into their eyes…..you’ll see what I mean (http://youtu.be/OAnSw3nzj0U).
On Tuesday, June 30, City Council’s Transportation Committee held a hearing on two bills. The first bill would require the City to conduct a traffic congestion and air quality study and the second would temporarily limit the number of new for-hire vehicle licenses the TLC could issue while the study is being conducted. I testified in support of both bills and if you are interested in reading my full testimony, please visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/downloads/pdf/testimony_06_30_15.pdf.
That’s all for this month, so until next time, stay cool and drive like your family lives here!