Testimony Supporting Proposed NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission Rules To Require For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) Accessibility

Testimony Supporting Proposed NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission Rules To Require For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) Accessibility

Good morning, Chair Joshi and Commissioners. I am Council Member Brad Lander. I’m here today to express my strong support for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s (TLC) proposed rule to require for-hire vehicle (FHV) bases to send 25% of their dispatched trips to wheelchair accessible vehicles.

For too long, New York City has done too little to serve the approximately 60,000 wheelchair users in NYC -- especially those in the outer borough, and those areas not served well by yellow taxis -- with convenient, point-to-point options for transportation. This is an area where the Council, the TLC, and the Mayor all share the blame. People with disabilities deserve -- and have right to -- equal access. We must move expeditiously to provide real access to accessible FHVs for people who need them.

I commend you for proposing this new rule, which would insure that wheelchair accessible vehicles be “at the ready.” Your proposal allows FHV bases the flexibility to dispatch accessible vehicles from both the livery and black car sectors and allows bases to use existing accessible green taxis to meet this mandate. More accessible vehicles on the road will translate into a higher volume and variety of wheelchair accessible cars on the road, reducing wait times and improving service standards significantly. The TLC rule will phase-in this 25% requirement over several years, with the intent to allow FHV bases to slowly absorb the cost of providing more accessible rides over time. I am also pleased that the proposal also includes a commitment from the TLC to report publicly on response times to requests for accessible vehicles.

I support the TLC’s proposal, rather than a “centralized dispatch system,” which has been proposed by Uber and some other stakeholders. There is simply no guarantee that such a system would have enough accessible vehicles on the road to meet demand. As we’ve seen from the Access-a-Ride program, centralized dispatch programs too often fail to meet people’s needs in a timely way. According to a 2016 report from the Comptroller’s office, fewer than 50% of Access-a-Ride car trips were on time, with nearly 5,000 complaints from riders that the vehicle never showed up at all. Central dispatch programs like Access-a-Ride and the TLC’s 2-year dispatch pilot for FHVs, operated between 2008-2010, suffer from a lack of enforceable service standards, with no guarantee that NYC’s disabled and seniors will get the service they need.  

It is my understanding that some supporters of a centralized dispatch program are proposing that such a system be funded by a rider surcharge that would be determined by centralized dispatcher. This would be a recipe for disaster, without the oversight, transparency, and accountability required. This is especially true given the likelihood that the dispatcher would be a large corporate operator (or partnership of operators) within the TLC system that would have a strong incentive to keep the surcharge low, thus potentially impoverishing the accessible system.

A centralized dispatch system here -- and especially one operated by Uber or one of the other major corporate players, with a financial stake in the system -- would fundamentally lack accountability. The provider might promise users a reasonable wait time, but what if they don’t deliver? This has been a huge problem with Access-A-Ride. If Uber would agree that if they don’t meet response time obligations, they lose their license to operate in New York City entirely -- as recently happened in London -- then I could believe there would be real accountability. Short of that, I doubt it.  

One recommendation for amendment: I believe the proposed rule would be strengthened by a more specific strategy for making sure that the accessible FHV trips are matched to the users who need them. The rule a reporting requirement on requests for accessible vehicles, and required response times to those requests.

Finally, I am aware that some stakeholders are proposing utilizing a surcharge for FHV accountability, either as a way of helping owners defray the cost of purchasing or upgrading vehicles, or as part of the centralized dispatch system.

If a new surcharge is added at this time, some of that surcharge must be dedicated to a fund for drivers’ health and retirement benefits (as part of a broader effort, which covers yellow taxi drivers as well). As independent contractors, for-hire drivers are denied many of the rights, protections and benefits of traditional employees, making it difficult to piece together a decent standard of living. Establishing a new surcharge for accessibility at this time, without including driver benefits, would likely guarantee that drivers remain without critical health, retirement, and other benefits. With a “portable benefits fund” for taxi and for-hire drivers, New York City can help lead the way to establish basic supports for workers in the gig economy, serving as a model for other sectors in NYC and cities across the country.

As a result of a court finding in 2014, this will require the Council to pass Intro 1301-2016, sponsored by Council Member Corey Johnson and myself, authorizing the TLC to establish such a fund. I commit to working with you to achieve passage of legislation for this purpose.  

Thank you for this proposal, for your commitment to meeting our obligations to people with disabilities, and for this opportunity to testify.  

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