While the New Year has only just begun...

By:  Commissioner Meera Joshi

It has been an exceptionally busy time for us at the TLC, and no less for all of you in the taxi and for-hire industries.  Before we get too far in, I wanted to take a quick moment to mention the fact that, as I write these words, winter has made its dramatic entrance and the first significant snowfall of the year is being forecast for next weekend.  Please, whether this storm blows over, or it packs a whallop or even if it’s history by the time you read this…….please take a moment to check your equipment.  Make sure you have plenty of washer fluid, and new wipers, if possible.  If not, and unless it’s too far gone, swabbing the wiper blade with a little rubbing alcohol will cut the grease and make it seem like new again.  Check your tire treads!  Last but not least, keep an ear glued to the news media, and listen to (and follow!) all official instructions – it could save your life, or the life of another!
Okay, let’s start with yet another reminder that, starting April 1, 2016, the TLC is moving to an exclusively online payment process for driver license renewals, and an e-mail or mail process for the submission of required documents. We will no longer accept in-person visits to renew driver licenses.  It’s quick, it’s easy, and if you pay with e-check, it’s not only easy – it’s free.  For details, visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/downloads/pdf/industry_notice_16_02.pdf.
 It was my distinct honor to have been chosen as the January speaker for the Crain’s New York Business Breakfast series.  Starting with about 15 minutes of prepared remarks, the event moved on to about 45 minutes of questions & answers directed by Crain’s reporter and assistant managing editor Erik Engquist and Politico Senior Reporter Dana Rubinstein.  Needless to say, there were many interesting topics on the table, though we really only had a chance to scratch the surface.  Let me leave you with two takeaways from this very positive event, though.  We talked about the mountainous chunk of data that the TLC receives and processes each month in a way, I hope, that gave people a better understanding of and appreciation for the challenges we face in working with this staggering volume of information.  But if there was a doubt in anyone’s mind as to the value of taking on this huge task, I believe I dispelled it quickly with the simple fact that it is good government at its best when policy is formulated on a solid foundation of data.
We also talked about accessibility.  As I said in my remarks, we will see a more accessible taxi and for-hire world in 2016.  There is an active Request for Proposals to expand our successful Accessible Dispatch Program from serving pick-ups in Manhattan only to providing pick-up service citywide.  Our partnership with Access-A-Ride continues to grow, and shows much promise for the future thanks to the flexibilities of existing taxi technology.  We’ve also created a number of incentive programs for the drivers and owners of wheelchair accessible taxis.  Drivers can potentially earn thousands of dollars in additional income each year for driving an accessible cab

We are of course working diligently toward our goal of a 50% accessible taxi fleet by the year 2020, with medallion owners receiving $14,000 to offset the higher purchase costs, and an additional $4,000 per year for four years to assist with the anticipated higher operating costs (http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/industry/taxi_improvement_fund_owner.shtml).

Even as we continue to progress in those areas, in 2016 we will see a more accessible taxi and for-hire world.  All the parts of City government must work together so that we may effectively achieve our shared prioritization of accessibility in the pre-arranged for-hire sector.  While this industry has been subject to a requirement to provide a level of service equivalent to what is provided to passengers who do not use wheelchairs, there is no question in anyone’s mind about whether this is happening to anyone’s satisfaction.  We are ready to get into the complex and detailed work of crafting an accessibility plan for the For-Hire Vehicle industry, and the dialogue has begun.

Last but certainly not least – let me leave you with today’s announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio of the frankly thrilling fact that 2015 was officially the safest year ever on New York’s streets.  Traffic fatalities are down by 22%, and dozens of fewer lives were lost since we began to implement the mayor’s Vision Zero Action Plan.
Joined by TLC, DOT, and DCAS commissioners, the NYPD’s Transportation Chief, and area elected officials, Mayor Bill de Blasio leads a walk-through of a newly-engineered portion of Queens Boulevard, between 56th and 57th Streets.  The Mayor rejected Queens Boulevard’s previous nickname “boulevard of death” – instead dubbing it the “boulevard of life.”
As I said for the announcement, we are truly grateful for the daily support we’ve experienced from the taxi and for-hire industry leaders and licensees, and as closely as we’ve worked with them in 2015, we look forward to working with them even more closely in the coming year.  There is so much more work to do, but we’re ready – plus, as the old saying goes – work shared is work halved!