It is this time of year, when we are all in a celebratory mood, that we look forward to the future and what it may have in store for us. I am thrilled beyond belief that we finally have a new mayor coming into office. Bill de Blasio was a walking/talking disaster from day one.
All of his policies have caused disastrous results, especially in the for-hire vehicle (FHV) industry. I could go on and on about all the things that I would like to see changed and the new policies created to make for a more robust FHV industry that allows the big and small, as well as old and new companies, to survive and thrive well into the future.
Rather than detailing my wish list for the future, I want to point out a prime but very simple example of how the current administration has allowed his NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) to run amok – all while causing harm to the FHV industry and wasting valuable taxpayer dollars in the process: While many of the car service bases and drivers have still not fully recovered from the effects of COVID-19, the last thing anyone needs is unnecessary bureaucracy and a waste of time and energy. Regardless, the TLC has used a little-known provision in its massive encyclopedia of rules, not really for compliance purposes but instead to generate income.
We all know that 35 R.C.N.Y. Section 59B-13(j)(1) requires a licensed dispatch base to truthfully answer all questions and comply with all communications, directives, and summonses from the Commission. I have heard horror stories about bases that did not receive a directive, and hence did not know that it had to reply to said directive – and as a result, had its license suspended.
Keep in mind there is no one at the TLC to call to ask, “Why was my base license suspended?” Instead, a base does not receive a directive, does not receive a notice of suspension, and continues to operate while unknowingly under suspension, thus causing further summonses, fines, and penalties.
It takes a great deal of time to find out what happened and what got lost in the shuffle. Most of the bases I know immediately open any correspondence from the TLC and reply in a proper and prompt manner. Of course, things can fall through the cracks, but those instances are the exception to the rule.
This is a perfect example of something that I find abominable, and indicative of what SHOULD NOT be taking place on behalf of an administrative agency in the largest city in the country.
A base I know received a directive to respond to a request for information regarding the name and license number of a person operating a particular vehicle on a specific date. The base responded to the TLC in the required time frame. However, the TLC held the base to be in violation of 35 R.C.N.Y. Section 59B-13(j)(1) for not responding to the directive. As a result, a hearing was scheduled at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).
The person who responded to the directive on behalf of the base appeared at the hearing and testified that the directive was received, and her response was submitted in a timely fashion. A copy of the email sending the response was submitted to the hearing officer and the person who sent the email response attended the hearing to testify. A representative from the commission attended the hearing and contended – for the first time, mind you – that the response was insufficient because not all the requested information was provided.
Keep in mind that the directive gives the licensee the option of providing either the name and license number of the FHV driver in question or an explanation as to why it cannot be provided. In this case, the base responded to the directive by stating that no dispatches had been sent to the vehicle on the date in question – and since the base was not the owner of the vehicle, it could not provide any information on who was operating it on the date in question. In essence, if the vehicle was in fact being operated as an FHV on the date in question, then it was not dispatched from the base that had been summonsed. This was apparently insufficient for the commission, and it decided to pursue the case.
After the date the hearing was held, the OATH officer issued a written decision stating that the base did in fact reply in a timely fashion to the directive and was not in violation of TLC rules. Under the circumstances, a reasonable person (or a reasonable administrative entity) would abide by the decision of the OATH officer. After all, the directive was responded to in a timely fashion and the base did provide truthful information in response.
But rather than let the matter go and move on to more important issues, the TLC decided to appeal the OATH officer’s decision.
While a situation like this does not necessarily require a response by an attorney representing the base, many base owners would be hesitant to reply to an appeal like this on their own – thus necessitating the retention of counsel to represent their interests and rights. Keep in mind that what is at stake here is only $200.
Yes, you read that correctly. The total fine at issue is $200.
So, who was being the unreasonable party? Is the TLC acting unreasonably by making this base, which was fully compliant with the law, jump through administrative hoops to protect its rights? Or is the base overreacting by defending a matter when only $200 is at stake?
Considering everything we know, I will simply say the base did the right thing by standing up for its rights, retaining counsel, and not just rolling over for the TLC, which was clearly in the wrong. Essentially, it was a money grab, albeit a small one, and the TLC doesn’t deserve that money.
The entire thing was nothing more than a giant waste of time, a waste of taxpayer money, and seemingly incontrovertible evidence of an administrative agency with its priorities completely out of order.
This example of the TLC spending its time fighting a ridiculous summons to a higher authority is completely out of line. Shouldn’t the TLC be doing something else? Anything else?
I was speechless when I heard this, as angered as you should you be. Please keep in mind this is just one example, and not an isolated incident.
Those who want to waste the valuable resources of an administrative agency like this have no business essentially overseeing transportation for millions of FHV rides each year. We need more cooperation from the TLC, and more collaboration from the various factions of the FHV industry. I would like to see all the segments of the industry come together, be open to new ideas, and for New York’s City Council members to be able to create a robust policy where all entities involved in for-hire transportation can survive and thrive.
I am hopeful the new administration will take a 180-degree turn from the course we currently seem to be on. We need to move forward, not backward, but that can only be done when the overriding policy of the TLC and City Council is ensuring the safety of the riding public. Next, let the private entities operate within the industry and allow market forces to dictate who will be the winners and losers.
As always, I am here to help however I can so we can continue to transport millions of City residents and visitors in a fair, safe, and efficient manner.