It has been a long time – way too long – since we’ve had real leadership at the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC). Former Chair Meera Joshi had experience with the for-hire vehicle (FHV) industry as the TLC’s General Counsel for three years, but she left the position of Chair in March 2019. Then, in January 2020, Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk became Chair. It’s not an easy job, and Aloysee had no experience in the FHV industry, and it showed in her lack of leadership. Her tenure was short (only two years), ending with a crash-and-burn, expletive-laced rant caught-on-camera in March 2022.
In May 2020, Chris Wilson, the longtime General Counsel of the TLC, retired. At the time, Ryan Wanttaja was the Assistant Commissioner for Legal Affairs. When Chris Wilson retired, Ryan became the Acting General Counsel of the TLC. With the abrupt departure of Aloysee, Wanttaja became Acting Chair of the TLC.
To make matters worse, after 10 years serving as a TLC Commissioner, Nora Constance Marino, Esq. stepped down in October 2021. Ms. Marino, a long-time advocate for drivers and small business owners, always stood up for what she thought was right and always sought fairness for the vulnerable and those who struggled to have their voices heard. She is greatly missed.
In a period of three short years, the leadership at the TLC has been shuffled and there appears to be a power vacuum. In such a state of affairs, it would appear impossible to get anything done at the municipal government level to effectuate change for the betterment of the FHV industry.
What makes the power vacuum and lack of leadership at the TLC even more unusual is that When Eric Adams became Mayor in 2022, he appointed former TLC Chair Meera Joshi to be his deputy Mayor for Operations, a position which has direct oversight over the TLC. Also, Frank Carone, who served as a TLC Commissioner for almost six years, and who is very familiar with the FHV industry, became Mayor Adams’ Chief of Staff. So, there are persons in power at City government who know the FHV industry needs help. The real question remains: What is it that the FHV industry needs?
Perhaps Mayor Adams has been too busy trying to keep the crime rate down in New York City and perhaps he has been distracted from appointing a new TLC Chair. On the other hand, it is possible that Meera Joshi and Frank Carone know exactly what they are doing and are satisfied, for the moment, with the status quo in the industry.
On the one hand, we need high-quality, experienced leaders at the TLC. On the other hand, maybe it is better that nothing is being done because history has shown us that when the TLC gets involved in something, it almost always creates more chaos. As such, perhaps it is time for a more laissez faire attitude at the TLC – meaning that, perhaps it may be better if they allow people and/or institutions to act or behave however they want, with little or no interference or regulation. In the place of massive regulation and governmental oversight can be a market that works out its own problems and does so in a beneficial way.
Deregulation is the reduction or elimination of government power in a particular industry, usually enacted to create more competition within that industry. Over the years, the struggle between proponents of regulation and proponents of government nonintervention has shifted market conditions. Proponents of deregulation argue that overbearing regulation and governmental intervention in private markets reduces investment opportunities and stymies economic growth, causing more harm than good.
Whether the FHV market is being deregulated by inaction at the TLC or it’s due to a lack of leadership, the fact remains that while the TLC has been asleep and staying out of the business of picking the winners and losers in the industry, new partnerships have been created and new business models are being worked out. Ten years ago, no one would have thought that yellow taxis would form a quasi-partnership with Uber. Today, such a partnership is a reality.
In late March 2022, Curb Mobility, the leading ride-hailing app for licensed taxi and for-hire rides in New York City and throughout North America, announced the execution of a strategic partnership agreement with Uber, enabling Curb-connected taxi drivers to receive trip requests from Uber users. The integration will provide wider transportation options for riders and more trips for drivers as the taxi booking option becomes available in the Uber app.
Curb and Uber’s partnership enables both companies to offer riders and drivers more flexibility and coverage as urban transportation ramps back up in major cities. Taxi drivers will have access to incremental trip offers from Uber on top of the millions of annual ride requests through the Curb app, while Uber users will have more ride options to meet their needs as they travel.
Riders in New York City will be able to book rides in Curb-connected taxis through the Uber app, in addition to existing vehicle options provided by Uber. Drivers on the Curb platform will be able to seamlessly receive and accept these Uber trips through their existing in-vehicle systems, in addition to Curb app requests and traditional street hails. This partnership delivers even greater opportunities for taxicab drivers to have access to an ever-widening pool of riders.
To me, this news is fantastic. It is new. It is exciting. It is progress. It is good for the rider and good for the taxi owner/operator. Of course, it is also good news for Curb, who is able to increase taxi ridership and provide more available drivers for Uber and possibly other FHV bases.
Most of all, this is innovation in an industry that has been stymied by regulation for many years. Perhaps this new laissez faire attitude by governmental regulators – or deregulation by inaction – is a good thing. It is proof that there can be progress in the NYC FHV industry when the TLC stays out of the business of all, except ensuring that the riding public is safe by licensing and overseeing the industry.
Oversight and no active participation by the TLC is the key.
More people in the FHV industry need to think outside the box. More FHV businesses need to reinvent themselves. Companies in the FHV industry must realize that strategic partnerships are invaluable. There are many more options available for all those in the FHV industry to increase consumer demand while also increasing the supply of available drivers.
As always, I am available to anyone in the FHV industry who wants to discuss new and potential business plans, opportunities that are currently available and the means to stay relevant to riders in the 21st century.