Hello everyone…

April, 2015.- I hope it’s safe to say that the colder weather is behind us and we can start to enjoy the rising temperatures!
Let’s dive right into what has been going on since my last column.
On March 3, Mayor de Blasio signed Intro. 615 into law which will help to further strengthen taxi driver protections.  This is the second bill, in just a few short months, passed by the City Council and signed into law by the Mayor to help better protect taxi drivers. I would like to again thank Chairman Rodriguez and the rest of City Council for passing this important piece of legislation so quickly and removing the outdated “trouble light” specifications. Prior to the bill passing, the Administrative Code limited a trouble light to being only what is called a “lollipop” light – which are the circular orange lights currently equipped on all TLC licensed yellow taxis, Boro Taxis and livery vehicles. 
By making this very small, yet significant legislative change, the definition of a trouble light has broadened to allow owners and drivers the freedom to invest in the best possible alarm technology in order to better protect drivers in distress. This also means the Commission will be able to branch out and explore systems that go far beyond the current basic blinking light. It enables us to create trouble light specifications that could be more useful to law enforcement, which will in-turn, keep drivers safer when an unsafe situation arises.
Separately from passing new legislation, the TLC has been making great strides to improve driver safeguards with the Driver Protection Unit.
The Driver Protection Unit is a unit stemming from the success of the Lease Cap Unit which started back in February 2012. The Lease Cap Unit is responsible for enforcing TLC rules that limit the fees medallion owners and agents can charge drivers. Since the unit started, we have successfully returned over $2.5 million in restitution to drivers and collected over $1 million in fines for the TLC. TLC attorney David Ross is in charge of the Lease Cap Unit, and because of his hard work and dedication, he was named TLC’s 2014 Employee of the Year. In addition, Mr. Ross also received a 2014 Mayor’s Excellence in Customer Service Award. 
We wanted to expand this unit to protect the rights of all of our drivers, not just our yellow taxi drivers, considering more than half of the total driver pool does not drive a yellow taxi. The Driver Protection Unit will investigate, prosecute, and resolve illegal conduct and fraudulent practices affecting our licensed drivers.  We will accomplish this by enforcing TLC rules, joint investigations with the Attorney General, outreach to industry groups, monitoring of driver message boards for problems that many not be reported due to fear of retaliation and ensuring Workers Compensation rules are being followed.
Drivers are the life-line of this industry and there rights must be protected.
Moving on to the next topic, the TLC held a public hearing on March 5 to discuss a driver and vehicle owner reform package.  The proposed rule package includes amendments that would change the current limitations on license applications, extend license renewal extensions, remove the double-shifting requirement for fleet and minifleet medallions, introduce universal vehicle retirement schedules for all taxicabs, alter retirement dates for black cars and repeal the prohibition on power seats in taxicabs.
Bans of driver applications are in place to avoid repeated submission of applications and application fees by applicants who are unfit to hold a license.  However, the TLC has reviewed the current ban structure and is proposing the following changes. First, we are seeking to remove the two-year ban for those caught operating for-hire without having a TLC license or from any previously licensed TLC driver who has committed six or more TLC rule violations.  We would like to move these bans from automatic rejection to a case-by-case basis.  The purpose of this is to not delay the licensure of those who want to provide safe and legal service by becoming licensed, as well as those who might have committed violations that don’t actually influence their capabilities as a driver.
We are also seeking to change the one-year ban for applicants who have had a prior license denial. Currently, the ban starts on the date that the TLC denied the license rather than the date it was submitted.  The proposed rule seeks to change this policy to reflect the date the applicant previously submitted their new license application. 
The last set of ban periods we are hoping to change are the three-year ban periods for drivers who have had their license revoked – this three-year ban currently goes into effect the day the license is revoked by the Commission.  The three-year ban exists to give drivers an opportunity to demonstrate a safe driving record, making the case that they are capable of providing for-hire service again.  We are proposing that a driver who has a three-year ban be permitted to reapply for a license after their last violation triggering the revocation rather than the date when the ban is lifted.  This would enable revoked drivers subject to the three-year ban an opportunity to reapply for a new license before the ban period has officially ended.
We are also looking to change the current license renewal extension policy.  Currently, a driver can postpone an expiration date on their current license by requesting a one-time extension of 31 days.  We believe that extending this one time extension from 31 days to 60 days will allow for licensees who may be out of the country at the time of renewal an opportunity to get their application in on-time.  The clear benefit of this extension is it will prevent many drivers from having to go through the hassle of reapplying as a new applicant.
The TLC is also proposing a rule change that would repeal the double-shifting requirement for fleets and minifleets.  Yellow taxis operating in fleets or minifleets are currently required to be driven at least two nine-hour shifts each and every day – this includes holidays and weekends.  However, there are occasions where driver demand is slow, making it difficult, if not impossible, for fleet and minifleet operators to lease each of their medallions for both of the required shifts. 
The double shifting requirement was originally created to help keep taxi availability high, but now that there are several other non-use rules which accomplish the same goal. Besides these other non-use rules, fleet and medallion operators have an economic incentive to lease their medallions for the most amount of shifts possible in order to maximize their income. 
The TLC feels strongly that removing the double-shifting requirement will not have an effect on taxi availability but will ease the burden on those medallion owner currently penalized by this rule.
Another set of rules that we are hoping to change are the retirement dates for both yellow taxis and black cars.
The Commission is proposing changes to the current retirement schedules in favor of establishing a universal seven year retirement schedule for all yellow taxi medallion and vehicle types hacked-up on or after April 20, 2015.  Today, retirement schedules for some taxis are twice as long as others even though in many cases the vehicles travel comparable distances each year.  Through analyzing our inspection data, we have found that vehicles with different retirement schedules fail their inspections close to the same rate. 
The current high rate of passing inspections suggests that vehicles remain in good condition for many years of service and therefore should not be required to be removed from service prematurely. In addition, 55 percent of medallion taxis already qualify for a seven year retirement schedule, including accessible vehicles which will become a much larger part of the taxi fleet in the coming years.   These changes to retirement schedules will allow all medallion owners to get the most use out of their investments.
Black car retirements are currently set on a seven-year schedule. This rule was established back in 2008 as a way to improve the vehicle quality in the black car industry.  However, experience has shown that black car customers, who can choose among many competing bases, have substantial power to determine the quality of the vehicle.  Black car customers tend to pay a premium for new and higher quality vehicles so it is in the black car company’s own interest to keep their vehicles at the highest quality possible.  This is why we are proposing to repeal the retirement requirement for all black cars model year 2013 and newer. Black cars with a model year of 2012 and older, we propose a uniform seven-year vehicle retirement.
It is important to remember that even though we are proposing increasing retirement schedules, all TLC licensed vehicles are still required to pass each of their TLC inspections.  If a vehicle cannot pass its TLC inspection, regardless of its retirement date, it will be required to be removed from service. Passenger safety is our top priority!
Lastly, we are proposing to repeal the prohibition on power seats to better reflect the current vehicle models permitted to be hacked-up.  The TLC prohibited vehicles with power seats from being placed into service back in 1996 when taxis weren’t required to have partitions.  Driver comfort is an essential part for providing quality service and by repealing the power seat prohibition; owners will be able purchase vehicles with a power seat feature.
I would like to thank everyone who attended the hearing on March 5 and provided testimony on the proposed rule changes. Your feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated and will go a long way in helping us form better policies.
That’s all for now. Until next time, drive safely!