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Posts from the "Taxi and Limousine Commission" Category

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TLC Bolsters Cab Driver Safety Regs, Minus NYC Road Test Requirement

The TLC has no plans to require cab drivers to take a New York City road test. Photo: Trish Naudon-Thomas

The TLC does not require cab drivers to take a New York City road test. Photo: Trish Naudon-Thomas

The Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to revise some of its rules Thursday, strengthening safety requirements for drivers of for-hire vehicles as well as yellow and green cabs. But the TLC still does not require aspiring cabbies to pass a New York City road test before obtaining a hack license.

There are 70,000 for-hire drivers currently licensed by the TLC, according to the agency, transporting almost as many passengers per day as yellow cabs. Surprisingly, until now the drivers of for-hire vehicles — including livery cabs, black cars, and limousines — didn’t have to pass a TLC exam to obtain TLC licenses. The new regulations require a “taxi school equivalent” course for new for-hire applicants and drivers who want to renew their for-hire licenses.

However, some drivers with no TLC-authorized training will still be allowed to drive for-hire vehicles. New drivers may be issued a conditional TLC license and given at least 90 days to complete the training course. Exempt from the training requirement are “New York City police officers and certain persons with military service.”

The TLC instituted a new continuing education component for taxi and for-hire drivers. Traditionally, after their first year with a TLC license taxi drivers were required only to take a general defensive driving course every three years. The revised rules require the completion of a TLC-specific “license renewal course” for taxi and for-hire drivers. It’s not clear exactly what the course will entail, though a TLC summary of the rule revisions suggests it will cover new TLC regulations and “new street design patterns,” in accordance with Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

For-hire drivers will also receive specialized wheelchair-accessibility training under the new rules.

As Streetsblog reported last December, when the TLC held a hearing on the regulations adopted this week, drivers who want a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV. The DMV requires a road test, but it isn’t tailored to the crowded street conditions applicants face in New York City.

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Council Members Grill Uber on Prices, But What About Safety?

The City Council transportation committee heard testimony today on a bill to prohibit for-hire vehicle companies from “charging excessive rates.” Council members made no bones about the fact that they are taking aim at Uber, which raises and lowers fares in response to demand. Uber calls it “dynamic pricing.” It’s also known as “surge pricing” and, to some council members and Uber competitors, “price-gouging.”

Council Member David Greenfield, the bill’s primary sponsor, screamed at Uber reps for a good five minutes this afternoon over the prospect of a flip-flop-clad New Yorker fresh off the plane from Miami paying more than the prescribed amount for a ride home from the airport. Greenfield tweeted that traditional cab fleet owners, who donate heavily to local political campaigns, want a 20 percent cap on Uber “surge” rates. His bill would cap them at double the company’s normal price range.

Though it was the first time council members spoke publicly with Uber since company driver Aliou Diallo hit two pedestrians on the Upper East Side, killing Wesley Mensing and injuring Erin Sauchelli, legislators barely touched on the issue of street safety. Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez told Meera Joshi, chair of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, that he wants to talk more about the chain of accountability following cab-involved crashes, and a representative from Lyft (to whom Greenfield was far more cordial) said trip data requested by the TLC, and currently withheld by Uber, can help with crash probes. But no one asked the Uber spokespeople about the Upper East Side crash or the company’s safety practices in general.

The next time the council invites Uber to testify at a hearing, here are some things the public needs to know.

  • Does the Uber ride-hailing system create distraction for company drivers?
  • Does Uber collect EDR “black box” readings to ascertain speed and other data after a serious crash?
  • Was the Diallo crash the first fatality involving an Uber driver in NYC?
  • Does Uber keep data on the number and severity of crashes involving Uber drivers?
  • If so, is that data available to the TLC and/or the public?
  • Are Uber drivers trained by Uber for safe driving in urban environments?
  • Are drivers who are involved in serious crashes allowed to keep driving for Uber?
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TLC: Driver Who Killed Man on UES Works for Uber [Updated]

The cab driver who hit two pedestrians on the Upper East Side last weekend, killing 27-year-old Wesley Mensing, was driving a vehicle affiliated with an Uber base, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Aliou Diallo was ticketed for unlicensed operation after the Saturday afternoon crash, which occurred as Mensing and 30-year-old Erin Sauchelli were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue, according to NYPD. He was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Though Diallo was cited for unlicensed driving, his hack license “appears to have been current” at the time of the crash, said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, responding to a Streetsblog query. “We’re reviewing the circumstances at this time,” Fromberg told Streetsblog via email.

Fromberg said Diallo’s hack license has been suspended while the TLC “investigate[s] the circumstances surrounding the status of his NYS license.”

The Mercedes SUV Diallo was driving operates out of Schmenken, one of Uber’s NYC hubs, according to Fromberg. It is unknown if Diallo was picking up or transporting Uber customers when he struck Mensing and Sauchelli.

As Uber expands in New York and other markets, it remains unclear to what extent the company can be held liable for the actions of its employees. Uber is currently attempting to absolve itself of responsibility for a crash in San Francisco, where a year ago one of the company’s drivers ran over a family of three, killing 6-year-old Sophia Liu.

We will have more on this story as it develops.

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Unlicensed, Hit-and-Run Drivers Kill First NYC Pedestrian Victims of 2015

Motorists struck four pedestrians in two crashes in Manhattan and the Bronx over the weekend, killing two victims. One driver in the Bronx was charged with leaving the scene and reckless driving, while another remains at large. The Manhattan motorist, operating a vehicle with TLC plates, was ticketed for driving without a license, though NYPD blamed the victims in the press. The drivers were not charged for causing death and injury by NYPD or district attorneys Cy Vance and Robert Johnson.

Wesley Mensing was killed and Erin Sauchelli injured by the driver of a vehicle with TLC plates. The driver was ticketed for unlicensed driving but was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Photo via Post

Wesley Mensing was killed and Erin Sauchelli injured by the driver of a vehicle with TLC plates. The driver was ticketed for unlicensed driving but was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Photo via New York Post

At approximately 7:18 p.m. Saturday, Wesley Mensing and Erin Sauchelli were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue north to south when Aliou Diallo, eastbound on 62nd, drove a Mercedes SUV into them, according to NYPD, the Post, and the Daily News.

Mensing, 27, a noted golf instructor who lived in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, died at the scene. He was the first known New York City pedestrian fatality of 2015. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized with head and leg injuries.

Diallo was summonsed — but was not charged criminally — for unlicensed driving, NYPD said. Citing unnamed police sources, the Post reported that Mensing and Sauchelli were “not in the crosswalk,” and an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog they were crossing E. 62nd between Lexington and Third Avenue. Yet photos of the scene show the SUV sitting on E. 62nd just a few feet from the intersection, which seems to indicate that Mensing and Sauchelli were struck within or very close to the crosswalk.

NYPD has a history of relying solely on driver testimony when investigating pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Since the Right of Way Law took effect last August, expressly making it a misdemeanor offense for motorists to injure or kill people with the right of way, police have repeatedly blamed deceased pedestrians by claiming they were outside a crosswalk when they were struck by motorists.

NYPD had no information on how fast Diallo was driving, or how he failed to see two people in the street in front of him. Regardless of how the crash occurred, it is a crime in New York State to drive a vehicle if you know or have reason to know you don’t have a valid license. The investigation is “ongoing,” according to NYPD.

Also at issue is how an alleged unlicensed driver was allowed to operate a TLC-licensed vehicle. Saturday’s crash marked at least the second time in the past year that an accused unlicensed driver killed a pedestrian or cyclist with a livery cab. Streetsblog has asked the TLC for information on the livery base associated with the SUV Diallo was driving and whether Diallo had a current hack license at the time of the crash.

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TLC Still Has No Plan to Require NYC Road Tests for Taxi and Livery Drivers

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will close a loophole that allows livery drivers to operate with less training than yellow cab drivers, but the agency still has no plans to require road tests on actual New York City streets for any of the drivers it licenses.

The TLC has the power to license and train tens of thousands of professional drivers who set the tone on city streets: There are more than 40,000 licensed yellow taxi drivers and more than 70,000 people licensed to drive livery cabs, black cars, and limousines in New York City. But only yellow cab drivers have to pass the TLC exam before they can operate on NYC streets.

The TLC’s training double standard is now set to come to an end, requiring all for-hire drivers to pass the same test. Advocates applauded the move at a hearing today and pushed for additional steps, but TLC chief Meera Joshi still wouldn’t commit to requiring cabbies and livery drivers to take road tests in New York City to obtain a license. The current rule allows for-hire drivers to operate in NYC even if they took a road test elsewhere in the state.

“In the age of Vision Zero, improving education and certification standards for TLC-licensed drivers should be a no-brainer,” Michael O’Loughlin, campaign organizer for Cab Riders United, told commissioners. ”All New Yorkers deserve the same standards of safety [from drivers]… no matter what color car they drive, no matter what neighborhood they serve.”

Under the proposed changes, TLC’s “taxi school” curriculum, which includes classroom time and a written exam, will be extended to anyone looking to get a TLC license, not just yellow and green cab drivers. The expanded taxi school would not, however, include an on-road test.

Drivers seeking a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV, which requires an initial on-road test. But TLC does not have any control over the quality of the state’s training, and the state DMV test can be administered on streets that differ enormously from the crowded, complex conditions in New York City.

“I’m stunned to see that the new proposed rules will still not require drivers to take a taxi-specific road test,” said Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver last January. At the end of her testimony, Lerner turned to TLC Chair Meera Joshi. “Could you respond to why there is not a test with cab drivers in New York City, why you can go and get a license in upstate New York and then just drive in New York City without ever having driven in the city before?”

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Dana Lerner: Cy Vance Botched the Token Case Against My Son’s Killer

The cab driver who killed Cooper Stock is scheduled to be back in court in two months, thanks to what Stock’s mother Dana Lerner termed “inept” handling of the case by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office.

Meanwhile, Koffi Komlani’s apparent defense — that weather was to blame for the crash — is the same excuse Manhattan prosecutors gave Lerner for not pursuing a criminal case.

Cooper Stock

Cooper Stock

Komlani went before a judge this morning to answer a summons for careless driving, the only charge issued to him after the January crash. Though Komlani hit both Cooper and his father, Richard Stock, as they crossed an Upper West Side street in the crosswalk with the right of way, Vance filed no criminal charges.

Today prosecutors added a summons for failure to yield. Komlani is fighting the tickets, so the case was continued. By the time Komlani is back in court to contest the two traffic summonses, it will have been 13 months since the crash.

Lerner released a statement today, via Transportation Alternatives:

Obviously a failure to yield violation should have been issued to the driver who killed my son, Cooper. It is unbelievable that the ticket was not presented to the driver at the scene when he killed Cooper. My persistence has led to heightened attention to the need for justice in this case — it should not be up to the loved ones of victims to ensure that the justice system does its job. Now my family must endure even more heartache as we wait for February when the driver will be in court again related to this long-overdue charge. Both the NYPD and the district attorney, at the very least, owe me a public explanation for this wrong-doing.

“They’re just so inept,” Lerner told the Post, referring to Vance’s office.

Careless driving carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a drivers’ ed course. The minimum is no penalty. Outside the courtroom, Komlani’s attorney Raymond Colon said Vance has offered Komlani a license suspension and a fine.

Colon said there is video of the crash, but neither he nor Komlani have seen it. ”It was dark,” Colon said. “The weather may have been a little inclement, and there may have been a lot of traffic.”

Lerner told Streetsblog during an interview last summer that, in one of their early meetings, a Vance ADA said it would be difficult to make a case against Komlani because “it was raining” at the time of the crash.

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Vision Zero Year One: An Early Assessment

New York’s transportation reform and traffic safety movement notched huge wins when mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio adopted Vision Zero as part of his platform in 2013, and again this year when the new mayor put the policy into action within days of taking office. Vision Zero created a policy rubric for the de Blasio administration to develop its own legacy of transformative street programs after the strong progress of the Bloomberg years, and has galvanized unprecedented interest and support across New York’s political establishment for physical and regulatory changes on city streets. This expanded policy space has generated progress on difficult issues like expanded camera enforcement and speed limit reduction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made substantial progress on the legislative agenda for Vision Zero, but Police Commissioner Bill Bratton disengaged from the street safety initiative in its first year. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

The policy has also afforded Mayor de Blasio opportunities to show his leadership mettle and political touch. Anyone who wondered about the new mayor’s style was given an impressive demonstration when de Blasio took the unforgettable, emotionally wrenching step of appearing publicly with family members of victims of recent fatal traffic crashes during the first week of his administration, and demanded rapid action on Vision Zero by city agencies.

Now, with the policy well-established and recognized, and key milestones like the recent change in city speed limits enacted, the mayor and his senior managers need to make a clear assessment of the city’s Vision Zero performance and buckle down in several key areas to ensure that the policy generates tangible street safety improvements for New Yorkers.

That’s because New York’s street safety performance in 2014 will be good, but not great. It will be more in the vein of a return to levels seen over the past five to six years after 2013′s major spike in fatalities. It will not represent a marked improvement befitting a city with tremendous expertise in delivering safer streets, operating under one of the world’s most aggressive street safety policies.

If NYC traffic deaths in November and December (often one of the worst periods of the year) are close to those in recent years, the city could close 2014 with 260 or 265 total traffic fatalities. Where 2013 was the city’s deadliest in seven years, a 2014 with 265 fatalities would rank as the third safest year in NYC history. It’s also possible the city is on track to record one of its lowest-ever pedestrian death totals. The lowest total number of fatalities was in 2011, at 249. The lowest number of pedestrian fatalities was 140 in 2007.

Expectations have been raised substantially as Mayor de Blasio and the wider public policy community have embraced Vision Zero. At the end of the year, New Yorkers will ask what city government intends to do not only to match the safety performance of recent years, but to dramatically exceed it.

Everyone from traffic safety advocates to City Hall should resist any notion of falling back on a “wait and see what happens with the lower speed limit” stance regarding Vision Zero in 2015. For one thing, NYC DOT should already know how safety performance has changed on the group of 25 mph arterial slow zones such as Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, and McGuinness Boulevard, which were inaugurated six months ago. The broader speed limit change will likely have similar or lower impact absent much greater NYPD engagement and/or much broader application of enforcement cameras.

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Surviving a Walk in NYC Should Not Depend on Luck

As far as Bill de Blasio's NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

As far as Bill de Blasio’s NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

The Taxi and Limousine Commission says it doesn’t know anything about a cabbie who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk, hit a pedestrian, and crashed into a building earlier this week. Other than to deflect blame from the driver, NYPD has refused to release information about the crash.

It happened Monday morning. From the Post:

“He [the pedestrian] was literally flying. He fell right here in front of this window,” said Elsa Gomez, 28, who works in Macaron Cafe on East 59th Street near Madison Avenue.

The cab careened onto the sidewalk at around 11:50 a.m. and continued into the front of an eyeglass store, shattering its window.

“It was a huge, scary noise,” said James Escobar, 50, owner of Page and Smith Opticians.

“We were working inside … and we heard a big, huge boom,” Escobar told CBS 2. “I couldn’t even open the door.”

The pedestrian was hospitalized with a leg injury, reports said. “We were lucky,” said Escobar.

NYPD declined to release information about the cab driver or the victim to the press, other than the normal exculpatory statements about the driver. Police told CBS 2 “the cabbie somehow lost control of his vehicle,” and the Post reported that “his license was valid and there were no signs of criminality.”

When I called the department’s public information office, I was told to send an email request. This is NYPD’s polite way of saying “Go away.” I have emailed NYPD many times in seven-plus years at Streetsblog, and have never received a response. We’ll update if we hear back.

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NYC Cab Drivers Don’t Have to Take an NYC Road Test [Updated]


You can watch the entirety of Thursday’s hearing on Taxi and Limousine Commission Vision Zero rule changes here. Cue to the 41:15 mark in the second video, embedded above, to see TLC board members wonder aloud whether reckless driving is protected by the Constitution, and if it’s really that bad to run over and kill someone while taking a phone call.

But first, other news from yesterday:

  • The TLC previewed two stickers meant to improve cab driver safety. As prescribed by Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan, one will be placed on every taxi windshield to remind drivers when they make turns that “people are crossing.” The second one, which will be optional, is a bumper sticker for cabs that says “Your choices behind the wheel matter.” There was some question as to where on the windshield the first sticker should be placed — Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives testified that it should be on the left, but it seems the TLC, in consultation with DOT, has decided to put them behind rear view mirrors. Regardless, while this is surely a well-intended effort, for cab drivers who are oblivious to actual people in front of their vehicles, you’ve got to question how effective a sticker reminding them to pay attention will be.
  • Speaking of stickers, I took a cab ride a couple of weeks ago and noticed there was no partition sticker reminding passengers to watch for cyclists before opening the rear passenger door. I learned yesterday that these stickers are optional.
  • You can get a TLC license without getting behind the wheel of a cab. ”I was floored to learn that cab drivers are not required to do a road test,” said Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock’s mother, during testimony. “How can a professional driver be hired if they have not been adequately tested on the streets of New York City?” TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi addressed other points made by Lerner, but didn’t speak to the road test question, though the Vision Zero Action Plan calls for more extensive driver training. Update: A TLC spokesperson emailed us to point out that in order to get a TLC license, applicants must possess a chauffeur’s license, which is issued by the state DMV and does require a road test.

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TLC Commish: It’s Up to NYPD to Get Reckless Cab Drivers Off the Streets

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock's mother, before today's TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

Dana Lerner, Cooper Stock’s mother, before today’s TLC hearing, with City Council Member Helen Rosenthal at left. Photo: Brad Aaron

The success or failure of a Vision Zero law intended to get reckless cab drivers off the road will depend on how often NYPD issues summonses and charges after serious crashes, the Taxi and Limousine Commission confirmed today.

Cooper Stock, 9, was killed last January by a cab driver who failed to yield on West End Avenue. Signed by Mayor de Blasio in June as part of a package of street safety bills, Cooper’s Law allows the TLC to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws.

The law takes effect Sunday, but as we reported when the bill passed the City Council, since action against a cab driver’s TLC license hinges on a conviction for a traffic violation or a criminal charge, its effectiveness may be severely compromised. Of thousands of crashes annually in which pedestrians and cyclists are injured and killed, NYPD investigates only a few hundred.

At a public hearing this morning on TLC rule changes necessitated by new Vision Zero laws, Dana Lerner, Cooper’s mother, asked TLC board members and Commissioner Meera Joshi how the law would be enforced. Joshi said the TLC “works closely” with NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan and the Collision Investigation Squad, which according to Joshi has for the past few months contacted the TLC “within minutes” of any serious crash involving a for-hire driver. Upon getting the word from NYPD, Joshi said, the TLC dispatches inspectors to crash scenes.

The problem with this protocol is that it doesn’t necessarily involve CIS, which still handles a tiny fraction of crashes. And even in cases where known information points to driver behavior as the primary cause of a serious crash, CIS investigations rarely result in summonses or charges.

Despite an unprecedented push from the mayor and City Council to reduce traffic violence, NYPD has shown no signs of reforming its crash investigation policies. This is evident in the department’s failure to enforce another new law, known as Section 19-190, that makes it a misdemeanor for a motorist to harm a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way.

Since Section 19-190 took effect in August, New York City motorists have killed at least seven pedestrians and injured countless others. To date, no drivers have been reported charged under the law.

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