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Rodriguez Bill Would Use Taxi TV to Help NYPD Close Hit-and-Run Cases

A bill introduced today by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez [PDF] would require all street hail taxis to display notifications from NYPD about wanted hit-and-run drivers using in-vehicle screens like Taxi TV. If utilized by NYPD, the hope is the technology will help improve the department’s low closure rate for hit-and-run cases.

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

“Too often hit-and-run drivers escape the scene and avoid punishment for their crimes. I hope that this bill will be effective in holding hit-and-run drivers accountable,” Rodriguez said. “I want to bolster the NYPD’s efforts in locating these drivers so that no one escapes responsibility for their heinous actions.”

The bill, first reported by Capital New York, comes at a time when efforts in other states to broadcast hit-and-run information using AMBER Alert-like systems are gaining steam. The system in Colorado, named the Medina Alert in memory of a hit-and-run victim, sends television, radio, text message, and billboard announcements when police are searching for a hit-and-run driver who has caused death or serious injury. Announcements are sent to police cruisers, taxi drivers, media, truck drivers, and pedicab operators. After an initial implementation in Denver and Aurora, the state passed a law expanding the Medina Alert system statewide earlier this year.

In Oregon, a woman whose son was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver is hoping that state’s lawmakers will follow suit. California appears poised to pass legislation for a hit-and-run alert system; a bill there has cleared both the Assembly and a Senate committee.

These types of systems are not yet available here. New York State Police told Streetsblog that troopers issue statements to the force’s website, send out social media alerts, and call media outlets directly when requesting the public’s assistance in searching for hit-and-run drivers. NYPD has not replied to a request for comment about its hit-and-run notification protocol.

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DOT: No Plans for Park Avenue Bike Infrastructure After Recent Deaths

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The west side of Park Avenue and 108th Street, facing south. Image: Google Maps

DOT will consider design changes at the Park Avenue intersection in East Harlem where drivers have recently killed three cyclists, but there are no plans for new bike infrastructure along the Park Avenue viaduct.

Livery cab driver Nojeem Odunfa hit cyclist Jerrison Garcia at Park Avenue and E. 108th Street Monday morning, reportedly dragging Garcia 80 feet before stopping. Odunfa was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and careless driving.

“There’s car accidents here all the time,” a local resident told DNAinfo. ”They drive like this is a highway.”

Park Avenue is divided by a Metro-North viaduct from E. 102nd Street northward. There is car parking on northbound and southbound Park along this 30-block stretch, but no bike lanes. Cyclists on Park must share one through-lane with moving vehicles, and riding on Park or biking across Park entails negotiating intersections with limited visibility.

Jerrison Garcia was the third cyclist killed at 108th and Park since July 2012. Image: I Quant NY

It’s no secret that this segment of Park Avenue is dangerous for people on bikes. Garcia was the third cyclist killed at the E. 108th Street intersection since 2012. There were six additional crashes resulting in cyclist injuries on Park between E. 106th and E. 110th Streets from April to September 2013, according to I Quant NY. Data mapped by Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat show dozens of cyclist injuries along the viaduct, and one death, from 1995 to 2007.

The viaduct area is also hazardous for pedestrians, and a DOT project to make it safer to walk there is underway. In light of recent cyclist deaths and injuries, on Monday we asked DOT if the agency is reviewing conditions at Park and E. 108th, and if bike infrastructure improvements along the viaduct are in the works.

Here is DOT’s reply:

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Jerrison Garcia, 25, Third Cyclist Killed Near Park Ave. Viaduct in Two Years

Cyclists on Park Avenue are sandwiched between the viaduct and parked cars while contending with moving vehicles and intersections with limited visibility. Image: Google Maps

Cyclists on Park Avenue are sandwiched between the viaduct and parked cars while contending with moving vehicles and intersections with limited visibility. Image: Google Maps

Update: Cab driver Nojeem Odunfa of the Bronx was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation, careless driving, and a right of way violation, according to NYPD. Odunfa was not immediately charged for killing Jerrison Garcia, and, if past patterns hold, he won’t be. Aggravated unlicensed operation carries nominal penalties and tends to be the default charge against sober unlicensed drivers who kill cyclists and pedestrians in NYC.

For the third time in two years, a driver has killed a cyclist at the same Park Avenue intersection, under the Metro-North viaduct in East Harlem. In addition to recent fatalities, data show that Park Avenue along the viaduct is a hotspot for cyclist injuries.

At around 5:15 this morning, a livery cab driver traveling southbound on Park turned left into Jerrison Garcia, who was also southbound, at E. 108th Street, according to DNAinfo.

Blood stains at the intersection marked the roughly 80 feet that police said Garcia was dragged until the livery cab came to a rest on 108th Street.

Garcia, 25, was pronounced dead at Mount Sinai Hospital. The 65-year-old driver, who reportedly works for Glory Car and Limo Service, was taken into police custody. NYPD told Gothamist “it was more than likely he would be charged with driving with a suspended license.”

Park Avenue is divided by the viaduct from E. 102nd Street northward. There is parking on northbound and southbound Park Avenue along this stretch, but there is no designated lane for cyclists, who must share one narrow through-lane with moving vehicles while negotiating intersections with limited visibility.

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Will New Yorkers Get Doored by de Blasio’s Taxi of Tomorrow Opposition?

As Mayor de Blasio weighs the potential $100 million cost of converting his opposition to the Taxi of Tomorrow into official city policy, New Yorkers on two wheels should remember one key feature of the Nissan NV200 selected as the city’s next taxi: It will all but eliminate the possibility of getting doored by an exiting taxi passenger.

The Taxi of Tomorrow would be a win for cyclists. Image: TLC

If it survives the courts and Bill de Blasio, the Taxi of Tomorrow would be a win for cyclists. Image: TLC

The vehicle has sliding doors for backseat passengers, reducing the need for Taxi TV public service announcements reminding passengers not to whip open their doors into the path of a passing cyclist — something that’s not just dangerous, but also against the law.

That improvement and others, including built-in GPS for drivers, rear-side lights to indicate when passengers are entering or exiting, a front-end design that reduces the severity of crashes with pedestrians, “lower-annoyance” horns, and rear cameras drivers can use while backing up, would be lost if the mayor decides to scrap the design.

On Tuesday, a state appeals court reversed a lower court ruling against the city’s Taxi of Tomorrow plan. The case could be appealed to the state’s highest court, and de Blasio said on Wednesday that, although the city’s law department continues to defend the project, he is opposed to it:

I think it is not right to have a single vehicle approved instead of a variety of vehicles that meet certain standards. I don’t like that we’ve lost an opportunity to create jobs here in New York City. I don’t like Nissan’s involvement in Iran. I don’t like a lot of things about this. I think it was a broken process on many levels.

Other criticisms of the Nissan vehicle are that it is not a hybrid and it is not wheelchair-accessible by default. London, which has also selected the NV200 as its new taxi, will have a fully-accessible fleet. A modified accessible version will be made available in New York.

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Mother of Cooper Stock: NYPD Must Hold Reckless Cab Drivers Accountable

Update: According to a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, today’s scheduled bill signing was postponed.

After a Wednesday hearing where he was joined by council members and department heads, Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to sign a package of bills today aimed at improving traffic safety. Though its signing will come later due to a scheduling conflict, one bill sent to the mayor by the council was Intro 171, also known as “Cooper’s Law.”

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

The bill’s namesake, 9-year-old Cooper Stock, was fatally struck by a cab driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January. His father, Richard Stock, was injured in the collision.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Koffi Komlani’s probationary hack license won’t be renewed when it expires in July. Regardless, though Komlani has reportedly not driven a cab since the day of the crash, for now he remains in good standing with the TLC, despite the fact that he drove into two people who were crossing the street legally with sufficient speed to cause grave harm.

“The TLC did nothing,” said Cooper’s mother Dana Lerner. “They did nothing. They didn’t take his license. They didn’t do anything.”

According to the New York Post, the TLC can currently suspend hack licenses for 30 days only when a cab driver has six or more points, and can’t revoke a license until a driver has more than 10 points. Summonses for failure to yield and running a red light add three points to a hack license, a reckless driving summons adds five points, and a ticket for driving from 31 to 40 miles per hour over the speed limit adds eight points.

Reports said Komlani had no prior violations on his record. A summons for failure to yield is still pending, according to Lerner, and Komlani was not charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

When Cooper’s Law takes effect, the TLC will be allowed to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. But as we reported in May, penalties will depend on whether NYPD issues charges or summonses after a crash. As it stands, police investigate only a fraction of serious crashes, and fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Lerner has seen the data on NYPD enforcement of state vulnerable user laws, which the department says it can’t apply unless the Collision Investigation Squad is dispatched or an officer witnesses a violation. “That’s the key issue,” Lerner said. “If the NYPD doesn’t enforce, none of these laws have any meaning.”

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City Council Passes Several Bills to Reduce Reckless Driving

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other reps before today's meeting. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/willalatriste/status/472067061028777984##@willalatriste##

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other reps before today’s meeting. Photo: @willalatriste

The City Council today passed a slate of bills and resolutions aimed at improving street safety.

The 11 bills — outlined in detail here — include Intro 238, which would make it a misdemeanor for a driver to “make contact” with a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way, punishable by up to $500 in fines and 30 days in jail; and Intro 171, known as “Cooper’s Law,” which would suspend or revoke TLC licenses of cab drivers who are summonsed or convicted, respectively, of traffic violations stemming from crashes that result in critical injury or death.

Council Member Mark Weprin, of Queens, cast the lone vote against Intro 171. Weprin said the bill comes too close to creating a strict liability standard — which, according to attorney and traffic law expert Steve Vaccaro, is exactly what New York State needs to reduce deaths and injuries. Weprin said he fears the law would punish some unfairly — that a driver’s career shouldn’t end because of one incident, and that a cabbie who rolls through a stop sign and causes a crash should not necessarily be subject to the same penalties as one who crashes while speeding. (The cab driver who killed Cooper Stock failed to yield and had an otherwise clean record.) “This is the livelihood of these drivers,” said Weprin. Council Members Vincent Gentile and Jumaane Williams abstained from voting on the bill.

Other bills would combine points issued by the state DMV and the TLC against hack licenses and set new TLC license suspension and revocation standards; require the TLC to review and report on cab driver crashes and subsequent disciplinary actions; codify the number of Slow Zones DOT implements each year; codify DOT work zone safety standards; require DOT to study the safety of arterial streets, study safety issues pertaining to left turns by motorists, and inspect and/or repair broken traffic signals within 24 hours; and prohibit “stunt behavior” by motorcyclists.

The bill to require the TLC to institute a one-year pilot program for “black box” technology to record and report taxi driver behavior was not on today’s agenda. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi told the transportation committee in April that the agency has issued RFIs for the program, but she made no mention of the pilot in budget testimony before the council earlier this month.

One bill in the transportation committee hopper not taken up today would mandate side guards for trucks to help prevent people from being swept beneath them. DOT asked that the council hold off on legislating truck guards in lieu of a pending study already underway within the department.

The council approved resolutions asking Albany to grant the city control over speed and red light cameras, increase the penalty for driving on a sidewalk to $250 and three license points, make it a misdemeanor to violate the state’s vulnerable user law, increase the penalty for reckless driving that results in death or serious injury, and pass extant bills to increase penalties for leaving the scene of a crash.

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TLC Won’t Renew Hack License of Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock won’t be prosecuted by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, but he won’t have a hack license much longer.

Koffi Komlani has not driven a cab since he struck Cooper and his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January, according to Allan Fromberg, spokesperson for the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Being a new driver, Komlani has a one-year probationary license, and the TLC will not renew it when it expires on July 5, Fromberg said.

“Obviously, while we are seeking to address issues of getting drivers that we believe are risky off the road more easily through legislative means via Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan, in the meantime, at least, we can take this action,” Fromberg told Capital New York.

The TLC says it is hamstrung by rules that make it difficult to take dangerous cab drivers off the streets. Komlani stopped driving voluntarily. The cabbies who killed 5-year-old Timothy Keith and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green, for example, also retained their hack licenses.

Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan includes a number of taxi safety initiatives, including “black box” tech to monitor cab driver behavior. However, TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi did not mention that program when she outlined the TLC’s FY 15 budget for the City Council. Joshi has said the TLC and NYPD will form an enforcement squad that will focus exclusively on TLC-licensed vehicles.

After the news broke that Komlani would not be charged criminally, Council Member Helen Rosenthal again called for the passage of “Cooper’s Law,” her bill to suspend or revoke the hack licenses of cab drivers who are summonsed or convicted, respectively, of traffic violations stemming from crashes that result in critical injury or death. 

“Current laws are clearly inadequate, and this news affirms the need for Cooper’s Law,” said Rosenthal in a press release. “The City legislates the TLC, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that those laws are sound.”

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Manhattan DA Cy Vance Won’t Prosecute Cab Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will file no criminal charges against the cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock and injured his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

Lisa Belkin of Yahoo News reports that prosecutors met Wednesday with Cooper’s parents, Richard Stock and Dana Lerner.

“They told me there is nothing in the law right now that specifies that he can be charged with any crime,” Lerner said, describing the meeting. Under New York law, criminal charges can only be brought if a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian commits two misdemeanors at a time. Because the driver, Koffi Komlani, was charged with “failure to yield” but nothing else, he will face a penalty of up to $300 and three points on his license.

First, the “rule of two” is an arbitrary standard that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. It has no statutory basis, and as a candidate for DA in 2009, Vance pledged to challenge the precedent in court.

Here is a passage that used to appear on a now-defunct page on Vance’s campaign web site:

There is no reason why two traffic violations are necessary in order to support a conviction of criminally negligent homicide. I view the “Rule of Two” as the result of case law which should be modified to reflect the reality that one vehicular crime is fully capable of killing. Although in recent years this notion has been applied by the courts in a less strict manner — it is indisputable that it does not take two violations to kill someone. Many violations — speeding, running a red light, or failing to stop at a stop sign are more than dangerous enough to take a life.

So why did Vance decline to pursue charges for this vehicular killing? As was the case when Vance failed to prosecute the cab driver who severed the leg of a Midtown tourist, the public is left to guess. “A spokesman for the DA’s office said that the agency does not comment on investigations or charges that are not brought,” Belkin reports.

Instead, Vance’s office referred to testimony it provided to the City Council in February: “It can be difficult for people to understand why a crash that seriously injures or kills someone is not always a crime. The reality is that often these cases do not meet the complicated legal requirements for criminal charges.”

It is difficult to understand why Vance is not prosecuting sober reckless drivers who injure, maim, and kill, especially since he refuses to say.

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Takeaways From This Week’s City Council Vision Zero Hearing

The office of Ydanis Rodriguez says he is aiming to get several traffic safety bills passed in the near future, while others that were taken up by his transportation committee at a Wednesday Vision Zero hearing may be held up.

At a press conference announcing the Broadway arterial slow zone Thursday, Rodriguez said of the 26 bills and eight resolutions: “Many of those bills already had the support of the administration. And other bills, there was some concern and issues, but we will continue having conversations.”

A spokesperson for Rodriguez said his office could not say which bills may go forward and which may not, due to legal issues.

“We are looking to move quickly on a package of six to seven bills that were discussed [Wednesday] as they need only little to no adjustments,” said Rodriguez spokesperson Russell Murphy. “While I won’t put a definitive timeline on it, we’d like to see these bills aged in the next few months.”

“We want to ensure the bills are comprehensive and complete and that we can pass through a number at the same time to bring about immediate action.”

Testimony submitted by city officials Wednesday gives some idea as to which bills the de Blasio administration may, and may not, be ready to act on. Here’s a summary.

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Swapping Horses for Taxis Would Saddle CBD With Even More Gridlock

That didn’t last long. Last Thursday, less than 24 hours after a mayoral spokesman floated the idea of letting owners of the city’s 68 horse carriage medallions swap them for taxi medallions, Mayor de Blasio reportedly laughed off the notion.

Every additional cab in the Manhattan core imposes nearly $300,000 in congestion costs per year. Photo: ILMRT via Wikimedia Commons

A good thing, too. It’s generally poor policy to buy off one entitlement with another — not to mention dubious politics, given that taxi owners aren’t shy about litigating to protect their turf. Moreover, handing out new taxi medallions looks ill-advised from a traffic standpoint as well. Swelling the ranks of yellow cabs on city streets by as little as one half of one percent (i.e., adding 68 yellows to the current fleet of 13,605) — would have burdened bus riders, car drivers, truckers, and cab users with an estimated $20 million worth of recurring annual delay costs just within the Central Business District (Manhattan south of 60th Street).

That’s the tale told by my Balanced Transportation Analyzer spreadsheet. Longtime Streetsblog readers will recognize the BTA from previous posts covering proposals to toll the entrances to the CBD. But the versatile BTA spreadsheet can assess impacts of lots of other possible changes to the transportation status quo. One such change is adding taxi medallions. Another is eliminating the horse-carriage industry and freeing up CBD road space now occupied by the horses and cabs. Here I look at both.

Taxis first. Using the BTA, I calculate that a mere 68 additional yellow cabs would tack a “time surcharge” of 0.5 percent onto average daytime vehicle travel times across the CBD. Sound trivial? To the contrary,  over the course of a full year it adds up to almost 800,000 extra “vehicle-hours” to make the same trips. For users of buses, cars, trucks, and cabs, those hours translate to time costs of around $20 million a year, or nearly $300,000 a year per new cab — $800 per cab per day.

How can just 68 more cabs cause $20 million a year more collective delay? The answer lies in three observations about taxicabs and Manhattan’s Central Business District.

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