Led by New York City Council Member I. Daneek Miller, representatives from the offices of Assembly Member Bill Scarborough and Council Member Donovan Richards, along with Adrienne Adams of Community Board 12, Harbachan Singh of the Queens Civic Congress, President Mark Henry from ATU Local 1056, and Dustin Jones of Disabled in Action called today for the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to reform the safety and legal standards of the commuter van industry, along with improving enforcement of the existing rules and regulations that govern the vans. The press conference began at 6pm across from the Jamaica Bus Terminal on the intersection of Archer Ave and Parsons Blvd in Queens.
On Sunday, September 14th, an illegal commuter van engaged the NYPD in a high speed chase that left a 22-year old passenger in critical condition. While the severity on the incident is unique, it has become all too common for the vans to break City laws and behave rudely to commuters during their daily routines.
The proliferation of illegal vans in Southeast Queens and throughout the City is well known, even vans that are authorized by the TLC often operate in illegal manners. This includes the fact that many vans “solicit, pick up or discharge passengers” outside of their designated geographic areas and along bus routes, a violation of City law.
Despite numerous attempts to alert TLC officials to such unlawful conduct by Council Member Miller, little has been done by the agency to encourage compliance and, as such, TLC has been complicit in allowing illegal vans and driving practices to manifest themselves within this industry which they are charged with overseeing.
The Commission appears to be woefully unable to carry out this task. At a February Vision Zero hearing, TLC Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud replied to Council Member Miller that 250 vans were authorized within the industry. He also admitted that “a lot more” than that number were working on the streets, albeit, illegally. NYC Open Data shows the authorized number to be at 344 vans (with only 301 licensed drivers). And a previous document (since removed from TLC’s website) available during the summer put that number at 477. The TLC is required by law to disclose this data, but in an era where we are striving to realize the dream of “Vision Zero”, often through data driven practices, the reality is that this agency remains in the dark about the industry it is required to oversee. According to the Commission’s annual report, 676 vans were seized or summonsed in 2013, providing a staggering statistic that between any of the Commission’s three authorized van estimates, each van was seized or summonsed an average of 2.7, 1.9, or 1.4 times, respectively within that year. Also according to the annual reports, the number of seized or summonsed vans from 2013 to 2011 has been 676, 526 (since revised upward to 568), and 161, respectively. Due to the proliferation of commuter vans, both illegal and those legally authorized, but operating in illegal fashion, Queens residents have become accustomed to subpar transportation service. They have also become victims of a two-fare system due to the vans – one required for the MTA and for the TLC. This is partially due to train and bus service shortages that come from the presence of vans. These shortages have been particularly detrimental to students, who have MetroCards that are already subsidized by taxpayers for bus and subway commutes, and also for the disabled, many who are unable to ride with the vans, which are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. For these reasons, the above local leaders from elected offices, community boards, civic associations, and labor and disability groups have gathered to call for reform of the industry and for the TLC to spearhead this challenge, while providing proper oversight to the laws and regulations currently active.
“It is apparent that the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which oversees the commuter van industry, and even the MTA, have ignored the need for safe and reliable transportation in Southeast Queens. They have ignored our concerns – which we have expressed multiple times – regarding standards within the industry,” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller (D – St. Albans), in reference to two council hearings, a personal meeting with Commissioner Joshi, a staff meeting with her team, and two letters written regarding this topic, along with training and enforcement questions, all done within the past year. “In light of this most recent incident, I have written Commissioner Joshi again, calling for her to spearhead a reform of the industry beyond surface measures. This includes properly enforcing all existing laws and regulations for the vans, and to place a moratorium on all commuter van renewal and approval applications until it has been determined that the TLC is up to the task of meeting the legal and safety standards that our community deserves.”
“New Yorkers have a right to clean, reliable, and most importantly safe commute via public transportation,” remarked Council Member Donovan Richards (D – Laurelton). “Last week’s events are a stark reminder that this portion of the city’s extensive public transportation network needs greater regulation. I look forward to working closely with transportation advocates, the Taxi & Limousine Commission, DOT, the NYPD, and the van companies to formulate a solution that enforces compliance with the same standards that apply for transportation across the city.”
“We believe that a study should be conducted and commuter vehicles should be permitted under regulations to meet the transit facility shortages in Queens while at the same time according adequate security and safety safeguards for the passengers,” added the Queens Civic Congress.