By Meera Joshi
Hello again, everyone… I hope you’re all enjoying this mild fall and are joining me in hoping these warm temperatures continue throughout the winter. As usual, it’s been another busy month for us, so let’s dive right in!
I want to start of this column with some very exciting news about our new licensing facility. On November 17, we opened the doors to a brand new space in the historic Falchi Building, located at 31-00 47th Avenue, 3rd Floor, Long Island City, NY 11101. This larger facility will allow us to better serve the 27,000 individuals that visit us each month.
Due to the increasing number of TLC applicants and licensees, we have increased the number of counter windows in addition to positioning them in one large centralized “U” shape, allowing all applicants to be taken at any window. We have also increased the number of fingerprinting machines to help cut down the amount of time it takes applicants to get through that process. Lastly, this new facility will feature a much nicer waiting area, equipped with tables so applicants will have space to fill out any incomplete paperwork.
This new space, and all of the improvements and amenities that accompany it, will allow the TLC to continue providing the very highest level of customer service.
While I mentioned this in my last column, I wanted to take a moment to remind everyone that the TLC is no longer accepting walk-in applicants without an appointment. Those who want to file an in-person application must first submit an appointment request by going to the TLC’s website (www.nyc.gov/taxi). Every applicant will be required to have a valid e-mail address in order to submit an appointment request. All of the important information you will need about your appointment will be sent to the e-mail address that you provide.
If you submit your application online through the TLC’s online transaction system (LARS), there will be no need for you to also fill out a separate appointment request. Once we receive your online application, we will then use that information to send you a future appointment date which will be needed in order to submit the additional documents required for licensure.
For more information about this process, please visit www.nyc.gov/tlc and read Industry Notice 15-41 by following the link in TLC News.
We continue to progress in fulfilling our goal of a 50% wheelchair accessible taxi fleet by 2020. Between November and December of this year, several more yellow taxi medallion accessibility drawings will be held on the 19th Floor of 33 Beaver Street. These lotteries, like those held previously, will determine which unrestricted independent medallions will have to hack-up a wheelchair accessible vehicle in the years to come. The drawings to be held on November 18, 19, 24 and December 1 will determine which medallions will have to hack-up a wheelchair accessible vehicle if their vehicle is due to retire in 2017, 2018, 2019, or 2020, respectively.
The medallions selected in this drawing will be required to place an accessible vehicle into service when their current vehicle is retired. The medallions not selected in the drawing are not required to place an accessible vehicle into service when their current vehicle is retired – but they will have to do so at the time of their next following retirement date.
The drawings are open to the public, but if you are unable to attend in-person, you can watch or even re-watch each drawing at www.livestream.com/nyctaxi. The results of each drawing will be posted on the TLC’s website.
Switching gears a bit, I would like to clarify two topics which I understand to be points of confusion for some folks and I hope this will help to clarify.
First, let’s talk about illegal street hail enforcement and misdemeanor (criminal) summonses.
Section 19-506 of the Administrative Code provides the TLC’s enforcement authority with respect to unlicensed for-hire activity. Under this local (City Council) law, the TLC can issue civil and criminal summonses for for-hire activity in an unlicensed vehicle, as well as to TLC licensees who are operating beyond the scope of their license.
This section of the local law also gives TLC the authority to seize the vehicles of any person who is believed to be violating this law prior to a liability determination. However, a federal court recently held that the seizure of vehicles for alleged first-time violators of this law is unconstitutional. In light of the court decision, we have stopped seizing vehicles and begun issuing criminal summonses in certain instances as authorized by the local law.
So, what does this all mean?
If you are found to be involved in unlicensed activity, meaning you are operating a vehicle that is not licensed by the TLC (straight plate), or operating with a TLC-license which is suspended, expired (failed to renew), or revoked, you will receive a criminal misdemeanor summons and have to answer to it in criminal court.
However, if you are a current TLC-licensed driver, in a current TLC-licensed vehicle, you will receive a TLC summons for soliciting or completing an illegal street hail. If you are licensed by the TLC, you will not receive a misdemeanor (criminal) summons, but rather a TLC summons answerable in TLC/OATH court.
I would also like to talk a moment about the new technology pilot program we announced a few weeks back, and elaborate a bit on what the pilot actually means for Taxi TV.
This month we began the exciting process of reviewing pilot ideas for the next generation taxi technology experience. Taxi TV is currently in all of our yellow and green taxis and continues to be an excellent source of information about your trip, current events and promotions. While the vast majority of taxicabs will continue to utilize these tried and true existing systems, we are allowing a small number of taxis to test out some different ways of allowing passengers to access this information. Our current rules are pretty exacting when it comes to what is required on the TV media loop, down to the exact number of minutes in the loop. While this level of control was necessary in Taxi TV’s formative years, it has constrained innovation and passenger choice.
Under the pilot, participants can test much more up-to-date, passenger-customized alternatives. We are already seeing proposals that allow the passenger to use the screen like a tablet, with the option to turn it on, search for content that interests them, including news and TV programs, and receive customized promotions. We look forward to seeing more new ideas and previewing them with the public.
Lastly, before signing off for this month, I wanted to share an update about the Taxi Improvement Fund and the Healthcare Service refunds.
Back on January 1, 2015, the TLC began collecting $0.30 on each yellow and green taxi trip that will be set aside to help fund the improvements necessary to make the taxi fleet more wheelchair accessible. The Taxi Improvement Fund (TIF), the mechanism for delivering payments to wheelchair accessible vehicle owners and drivers, will go live on January 1, 2016. In advance of this, we ask that owners and drivers update their information with the TLC. For additional details, please visit the TIF website: http://www.nyc.gov/tif
Please read this next section carefully as it contains important information about the Taxi Healthcare Service Fund. Because of a court ruling, on April 17, 2014 the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) instructed taxicab medallion owners to stop withholding the six cents per-ride fee for the Fund. The court’s ruling is now final and the Fund is permanently closed. Now it is the responsibility of the TLC and the medallion owners to give back the collected money to the drivers.
Healthcare Service funds which were never sent to TLC, but were collected from taxi drivers and kept by either medallion owners or their agents between October 1, 2013 and April 17, 2014, must be returned to the drivers as soon as possible. For any Healthcare Services funds previously paid to the TLC by a medallion owner, these funds will be refunded by the TLC directly to the current medallion owner. This process will begin in several months, and at that time, refund checks will be sent to the current medallion owner’s address on record or to their current agent of record on file with the TLC. If you need to update your address or agent information, please make certain to do so as soon as possible by completing the appropriate TLC form and submitting it to our Long Island City Facility.
Upon receipt of the refund check, medallion owners and/or their agents must return the money received to the drivers as soon as possible. It is required that medallion owners keep a record of all refunds made to taxi drivers and these records must be available to the TLC for inspection upon request.
If you have any questions about the amount you need to refund to an individual driver, please consult your financial records. If you do not have records of the amount collected from a driver, consult with your TPEP provider for an estimate of the number of trips for which you should have collected money. Neither TPEP providers nor the TLC can provide data about the actual amounts medallion owners collected from individual drivers.
That wraps it up for this month. Until next time, be safe and drive like your family lives here!