Taxi of Tomorrow– not Yet

Taxi of Tomorrow– not Yet

Annie sang: “Tomorrow, Tomorrow, you’re always a day away!”

And so it is with the Taxi of Tomorrow.

The planed rollout has been delayed again by a ruling by the New York Court of Appeals. The court, the state’s highest, granted a stay in a continuing appeal over the vehicle.

The puts efforts to phase in the Nissan NV200 as the only acceptable New York yellow taxi on hold  while the court decides an appeal brought by a a prominent taxi owners group. The NYC TLC  had April 20 as the date after which most taxi owners would have to switch to the new vehicle when they retire their cabs.

The Greater New York Taxi Association has opposed the NV200, arguing that the Bloomberg administration exceeded its authority by trying to force drivers to buy a certain vehicle. Traditionally, the TLC had established standards for taxicabs, but allowed any car that met those standards to be used as a yellow cab. The TLC’s long-delayed plan does not apply to livery cabs or black cars, which now outnumber yellow cabs. 

Uber Appeal Denied – Must ‘Fess Up unless Commish gives a pass

A New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission judge has rejected Uber’s appeal of an order issued two weeks ago suspending its base licenses. The car service must now turn over data on all trips for its 12,700 car fleet, the Daily News reports.
But just as the original order never went into effect — the TLC immediately stayed it when Uber said it would appeal– Uber says that the suspensions will somehow have no effect on its operations. The company is expected to petition TLC chairwoman Meera Joshi to set aside the order.
A TLC judge suspended five of Uber’s six bases in New York City after on January 7. Unlike taxi drivers who are made to serve their suspensions immediately, Uber was allowed to operate with a temporary license pending the appeal. Now, Uber may still operate by resort to its sixth base. All of Uber’s bases are virtual in any event– that is, none of Uber’s cars ever have to park there, or even visit.

A Shut and Open Case

The NYC TLC has suspended five of the six Uber-owned dispatch bases in the City. But just as quickly, it lifted the suspension when Uber appealed (or perhaps simply said it would appeal).  

Two days ago the TLC suspended the bases after the company refused to submit their electronic trip records to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Uber has refused to comply with a TLC directive that it turn over the data, saying it would violate their constitutional rights and share trade secrets. The agency needs the data to make decisions that will affect the taxi industry, as well as investigate passenger complaints.

According to TLC flak Allan Fromberg, as quoted by New York Business Journal: “The suspension wasn’t technically lifted, but I’m now told that Uber submitted an appeal request very late yesterday, and our policy is to issue them a temporary permit allowing them to operate until the appeal is decided…. We had mentioned that this would be the case if they appealed the … decision.”

One Uber base remained open which apparently allowing Uber operations to continue unaffected in the meantime.

The Great Medallion Crash of 2014

Taxi medallion prices, after rising continually for many years, are continuing to fall, with app-based hailing services like Uber taking the blame. The New York Times reports that in NYC individual taxi medallions, whose owners must drive a taxi for roughly 180 shifts per year, fell to $805,000, down 23 percent from 2013’s peak of $1.05 million. Corporate medallions, which may be owned in fleets, traded on average at $950,000, down 28 percent from their peak.

In New York, yellow taxi business has been cut not just by Uber but by the green or outer borough taxis.  There is a strong feeling among owners of yellow medallions that the TLC is failing to enforce rules that protect their traditional and investment-backed expectation that they will have the exclusive right to street hails, at least in Manhattan.  

The Times reports that medallions are barely selling at all in Chicago and Boston as financing has dried up. 

Committee wants to Bar Uber for Playing God

The Committee for Taxi Safety s calling on the TLC to suspend Uber’s TLC licenses because the New York City Uber chiefs have been using the company’s “God’s View” technology to track the movements of one a Buzzfeed reporter.
Uber’s God’s View tool allows Uber to track an individual’s use of the service, marking when and where they traveled by an Uber-dispatched car. Reportedly Ubers NYC general manager Josh Mohrer told Buzzfeed reporter Johana Bhuiyan he had been tracking her Uber vehicle as she made her way to his office for an interview. Mohrer also emailed Bhuiyan logs of her Uber rides to answer questions she brought up in the interview. Mohrer did not ask for Bhuiyan’s permission before doing so. This is according to a report in the Guardian.
Now, the Committee for Taxi Safety, a group which represents taxi medallion leasing agents, is calling on the TLC to investigate Uber. In a letter by Tweeps Phillips, its executive director, the committee asked that Uber’s license “be suspended until the riding public can be assured that their privacy and data are safe.”
Of course, the TLC has used its own GPS tracking power to track and gather evidence against cabbies for use in civil and criminal prosecutions.

Lyft Drops Its Threat to Enter the New York Market

There has certainly been a lot of talk about taxi apps on smartphones, and with that talk there is much confusion.  An app is just a way of hailing a vehicle. The real question is what vehicle is being hailed and who is driving it. Some apps hails cars licensed as taxi driven by licensed taxi drivers. Others hail anyone but.

Lyft, a major player in the taxi app space (to borrow a word from the heyday of the tech bubble) calls itself a “ride sharing” company. Its drivers are not licensed as cabdrivers; they drive their own cars, which are also unlicensed, at least not licensed as taxis. Because they are not taxis, the don’t need taxi licenses. It says its drivers take “donations,” not fares.  That’s the theory at least.

But when Lyft announced plans to launch in Gotham, the TLC had a cow.

Earlier this month, Lyft said it would move forward with its New York City launch despite threats from taxi regulators, not just the TLC, but state regulators. That assertion prompted the TLC to declare Lyft an “unauthorized service” in New York City.

“Lyft has not complied with T.L.C.’s safety requirements and other licensing criteria to verify the integrity and qualifications of the drivers or vehicles used in their service, and Lyft does not hold a license to dispatch cars to pick up passengers,” the TLC said in a statement.

“Unsuspecting drivers who sign up with Lyft are at risk of losing their vehicles to T.L.C. enforcement action, as well as being subject to fines of up to $2,000 upon conviction for unlicensed activity,” it added.

In short, the TLC said it would seize Lyft cars, which is not an idle threat because the TLC seizes close to 30 cars a day.

Later, Lyft backed down in the face of cease and desist letter from New York’s Department of Financial Services, joined by the NY attorney general.

Meanwhile, Uber, probably the richest of the taxi app companies, has already gained a foothold in new York by taking advantage of a pilot program that allows app-hailing of some yellow cabs. Uber and similar services can also be used to summon livery cabs, which, under New York rules, cannot accept street hails, but can be hired by “pre-arrangement” whether by a traditional phone call or a smartphone app.

Oops! — TLC seizes hundreds of cars in error

The Taxi and Limousine Commission seizes more than 9000 cars per year– all without a hearing and without a warrant. The TLC will give the car back to those who quickly plead guilty and pay $600. If you want to plead not guilty, you can get your car back if you pay $2000.

Now it has been revealed by reports in DNAInfo by James Fanelli and others and in the New York Post by Rebecca Harshbarger and Kathleen Cullito that the TLC lost almost 1,500 court hearings in 18 months in which TLC inspectors seized cars and falsely claimed they were illegal cabs. The TLC’s own tribunal dismissed 20 percent of the 7,187 cases involving illegal-cab violations, according to a TLC tribunal spokeswoman. The 20 percent figure almost certainly overstates the true error rate because many drivers plead guilty because they are told that doing so is the quickest and easiest way to get their car back.

The increase in rogue seizures, the Post says, came about because chiefs and captains bullied officers to seize as many cabs as possible. Many examples of inspectors making bonehead plays under pressure have been in the news, as have reports of inspectors being hounded to seize cars often on flimsy evidence.

As DNAInfo notes, TLC inspectors often seize cars where the driver or the passenger doesn’t speak English and the inspectors don’t have a translator to help understand the situation. Often inspectors don’t know or can’t be bothered with the rules, such as those that allow New Jersey of Long Island cabs to make pick ups outside New York City for trips into the City. Another common mistake is to seize cabs driven by chauffeurs or cars serving a particular business, neither or which need TLC licenses.

TLC Inspectors Cry Foul about TLC Car Seizures

The TLC seizes more than 9000 private cars annually, but apparently that’s not enough. According to an article in the New York Post. “TLC chiefs are threatening inspectors with summons quotas and other stiff punishments if they don’t take enough illegal cabs off the road.” The Post also says it has roll-call recordings to back up the inspector’s claims.

The chiefs of the TLC inspection unit pressure their officers by issuing a target number of summonses a day.

“You are going to be doing 15 summonses a day . . . I’ll ride you for a week. If you see that you’re not getting the seizures, you see you’re not getting enforcement . . . then start with the street hails,” one chief says to an office on one of the tapes. The chiefs also threaten other subtle punishments, such as assigning an officer a day-shift just after a night shift.

TLC officers have already charged that “many seizures [are] bogus” in that the officers don’t have reasonable cause, and grab the cars done to fend off pressure from higher-ups.

Just this month, there have been allegations that the TLC seized the car of a black man who was driving his white wife, the car of a Turkish-American who was taking his neighbors to the airport, and that of a driver who gives free rides to cancer patients.

TLC inspectors are being backed by their union, the Teamsters. Randy Klein, of Teamsters Local 237, told the Post: “The ideal situation is they treat them like human beings, they are trained well, and have the tools to protect themselves and the public.”

That would be ideal, too, for the drivers whose cars are nabbed by the TLC.

Race-Based Seizure?

In another seizure gone awry, TLC inspectors ticketed a black man as an illegal cabbie after spotting him drop off a white passenger. That passenger turned out to be his wife, leading to a lawsuit in a Queens county court, according reports in the Daily News. and in DNAinfo.

The Queens couple, Dan Keys Jr., 66, and Symone Palermo, 53, filed a racial bias action (claiming a whopping $3 million in damages) against the city and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, claiming they were unlawfully targeted on May 2013 by agents who assumed that a black man dropping off a white woman must be a cabdriver, or, in this case an unlicensed cabdriver  providing an illegal ride.

This is the third black eye in a week for the TLC aggressive car seizure program, the first being an claim by one of the TLC’s own inspectors that his agency acts recklessly in issuing summons, the second being a summons and car seizure of a driver who gives free rides to cancer patients

in the latest case, the husband and wife both received summonses — the wife was ticketed as  the registered owner of the car — and the agents allegedly continued the charade to cover up their mistake, according to court papers.

While the TLC-issued summonses were dismissed, the couple lost use of the car for a week. 

TLC mouthpiece Alan Fromberg, who is rarely at a loss when denouncing drivers, refused comment.

In the past the TLC has boasted that it seizes 8000 cars annually, and that it is looking to increase that number.

Additional links:

Lawsuit: TLC Mistakes Black Man, Bi-Racial Wife For Illegal Livery Cab Driver, Passenger

NYС officials accuse black man of being illegal cabbie for driving wife to work

This Racial Profiling Case Will Have You Shaking Your Head

If your car has been seized, click here.

Taxi of Tomorrow Held Legal

The so-called Taxi of Tomorrow got a legal green light from an intermediate state appeals court today, reversing an earlier trial court decision.  
Read the appeals court decision here.  
According to BloombergBusinessweek report, the Appellate Division ruled that the Taxi of Tomorrow program is a “legally appropriate response to the agency’s statutory obligation to produce a 21st-century taxicab consistent with the broad interests and perspectives that the agency is charged with protecting.” Judge David B. Saxe wrote the majority opinion. That there was a dissent by Judge Acosta makes an appeal to the New York Court of Appeals more likely.
Nissan won a contract with the city in May 2011 that allowed it to be the sole maker of NYC taxis, a deal valued at $1 billion over 10 years. 
Taxi fleet operators sued the city in December 2012 on the ground that the TLC had the authority to issue standards, but not to designate a particular vehicle. A judge halted the program five months later.  The city subsequently revised its rules to allow for more hybrid vehicles, something the TLC had previously advocated. The Nissan vehicle is not a hybrid, yet the TLC made it mandatory.
But in today’s ruling, the court wrote: “Where an agency has been endowed with broad power to regulate in the public interest, we have not hesitated to uphold reasonable acts on its part designed to further the regulatory scheme. Here … far-reaching control has been delegated to a commission charged with implementing a pervasive regulatory program. This far-reaching control granted to the TLC by the New York City Charter gave the agency full authority for its actions. 
Judge Acosta said in dissent that the commission exceeded its authority, “regardless of whether the Taxi of Tomorrow project is rational and consistent” with its objectives, because it mandated the exclusive use of a specific make, model and manufacturer.

The T o T was a darling of the Bloomberg administration. The new mayor, Bill De Blasio, has decidedly different views about the taxi industry so it remains to be seen whether the city and the TLC will seek to revive the program.


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