A few months ago, while reporting on a story about taxi drivers, I heard time and again that the Taxi and Limousine Commission courts were unfair, arbitrary, even corrupt. “Kangaroo courts,” the drivers said. When I tried to find out for myself whether this was true, I was told that the TLC courts were closed to the public, and I was forced to sue the TLC to gain access. Armed with a court order I was finally able to observe the tribunal. Sure enough, the kangaroos were hopping.
There is a scene in “The Verdict” where Paul Newman, playing attorney Frank Galvin, tells his lady friend that the idea of a court is not to dispense justice. The court, Newman says, exists to give people a “chance at justice.” In this the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission has a problem, because, right or wrong, taxi drivers believe that in the TLC courts, they have no chance.
IN NOVEMBER, 1999, movie star Danny Glover complained that he and other African Americans were discriminated against in hailing a cab. Glover’s complaint was old news, but the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission took the opportunity to intensify its routine assault on the rights of the city’s 41,000, largely immigrant, yellow cab drivers.
BACK IN November, Danny Glover complained that he had trouble hailing a cab because he was black. Glover’s complaint is long-standing and legitimate, and few cabbies deny it is often true. But Glover is a movie star, so the mayor and the Taxi and Limousine Commission jumped to react as never before.
A few months ago, I was spending a lot of time in taxi garages reporting on a story about the lives of immigrant cabbies. Nearly every cabbie I spoke to told me that what I really should be writing about was the Taxi & Limousine Commission and its courts. “Kangaroo courts,” the drivers said.
There is a scene in the movie The Verdict where Paul Newman, playing attorney Frank Galvin, insists to Charlotte Rampling that the idea of a law court is not to dispense justice. The court, Mr. Newman’s character says, exists to give people “a chance at justice.” But even in this ideal, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission has a problem, because most cabbies believe that in the TLC’s courts, they have no chance.
The Daily News was right in reporting on Sunday that the lack of yellow cabs plaguing the city is a shortage not of machines, but of men. While the number of medallions remains fixed at 12,187, there are fewer drivers willing to put up with the job.
Mayor Bloomberg has lent his support to the Taxi and Limousine Commission raising fares. That’s good since cabbies haven’t been granted an increase since 1996. But the new mayor needs to appoint a new TLC chairman who can give a top-down review to the city’s taxi system. A better system could provide improved service and a better living for drivers at the same time.
No one at the Taxi and Limousine Commission is taking cash in brown paper bags, as far as we know. The corruption at the agency is more insidious and more common, the kind that grows where power is absolute and law is absent.
Some time ago I filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of taxi drivers who had their licenses illegally revoked under a Giuliani-backed, TLC-enforced scheme known as Operation Refusal. Hundreds of drivers have been thrown out of work.