Thursday, March 21, 2019

BY IRA GOLDSTEIN

New York Black Car Fund It has been a while since my previous article, and I am very happy to be back!

A lot has happened in New York City since then—there never seems to be a dull moment in the Big Apple—and in the recent months the issues affecting the city have expanded throughout the state as well. It doesn’t look like things will be slowing down any time soon.

It was recently ruled that the NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) violated the constitutional rights of unlicensed drivers by illegally seizing their cars. TLC officers were cracking down on illegal pickups by taking the cars of unlicensed drivers believed to be acting as cabbies without a hack’s license as well as for-hire vehicle (FHV) drivers picking up illegal street hails.

The TLC and the city of New York were sued by five people after their cars were seized in the fall of 2014. In their filed complaint, they emphasized that the government cannot “seize property without judicial process and hold the property hostage.” The city argued that the TLC had the power to seize the drivers’ cars without a warrant because they were a threat to consumer safety.

But the court did not agree, and in late September, Manhattan U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni ruled that the warrantless seizures violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. “‘Probable cause’ is not a talismanic phrase that can be waved like a wand to justify the seizure of any property without a warrant,” she wrote. Following the ruling, TLC officials instructed their officers to immediately stop the practice.

While this decision has been heralded as an important victory for property rights by several newspapers in the region, there are other issues being overlooked. This is a huge disincentive for the drivers here in NYC to continue to follow the rules, and a threat to public safety, because it will be harder for the TLC to regulate and ensure there are no illegal cabs on the road. Since this case was in federal court, it could influence other jurisdictions to review the issue.

In October, a press conference was held to discuss Uber’s push to expand throughout the entire state of New York, with the TNC unveiling that it plans to “create” 13,000 new jobs, 700 in the capital alone. Right now, the company is limited to only the NYC area, but it appears very likely that Uber will be able to operate everywhere in New York in the next year. Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing for a statewide licensing system for ridesharing apps. In New York City, Uber is treated just like any other FHV base operator. How New York City and New York State divide enforcement authority could have potential game-changing consequences in the state.

Uber’s expansion has won the support of several Upstate mayors including Binghamton’s Richard David, Buffalo’s Byron Brown, Albany’s Kathy Sheehan, and Rochester’s Lovely Warren. All of the mayors have pledged their support to the “N.Y. Needs Uber” coalition.

As a final note, The Black Car Fund and I were at the Chauffeur Driven Trade Show and Conference in Miami, where a great time was had by all. A sincere thank you to everyone who came out and visited our booth. It was great to talk to operators and the other association members about what is going on with the industry in their cities and their current workers’ compensation plans. One day, we hope to be able to expand and provide workers’ compensation coverage to black car drivers in other cities. I look forward to seeing everyone at future events.

Check back soon for an update on what is going on in New York City. Until then, have a great holiday season! [CD1215]

Ira Goldstein is the Executive Director of the New York Black Car Fund and the Black Car Assistance Corp. (BCAC), Treasurer of the Coalition of Transportation Associations (COTA), and holds leadership positions with TLPA. He can be reached at igoldstein@nybcf.org.