Recently, there has been a lot of discussion regarding new regulations concerning super stretched limousines that the Taxi & Limousine Commission implemented in the city of New York. Many operators are concerned about the impact that these regulations will have on their business. I talked with the person who can best address some of these concerns, TLC Commissioner Matt Daus. Prior to becoming the commissioner, Daus was a lawyer with the commission since 1996, and has been working with the New York city government for the past 10 years.
LCT: What prompted the new regulation? Daus: There was a loophole in the law that needed to be addressed. When the law was created, it only went up a certain seating capacity. Years and years have gone by and vehicles are being built longer then the ever have before. So it was just a matter of keeping pace with the automobile technology and making sure that we (the TLC) applied the same rules to everybody evenly.
We fought to get that law changed for a few years, meaning getting the local law in New York City to go up to the maximum number of passengers that we could regulate and that would be 20. I drafted the legislation as counsel a few years ago. Then when I was appointed commissioner, it was one of my No. 1 priorities to get it passed, and we did it within a matter of four months.
LCT: There have been those critics that have said that the regulations were influenced by the carmakers in Detroit. What is your response to that? Daus: The automakers in Detroit just added some public testimony once the process was underway, but this is something that the TLC has been trying to do for years and within four months I got the law passed, and we started drafting the regulations. So of course the automakers in Detroit gave some comment on our proposed rules, but that was about the extent of it.
LCT: Was there a recent increase in the number of incidents that prompted the making of these regulations? Daus: This wasn't a reaction to any particular incident. This is something that's been in the works for a number of years. I believe in being proactive and making sure that people are being treated equally. And that we try to prevent circumstances from happening. This was one of the first things I wanted to accomplish when I first became commissioner. This is just putting people who provide the same type of service on the same foot. There's no rational reason that limousines, despite how long they are, should be exempt from our laws if they are operating in New York City.
LCT: What about the argument for classifying the longer vehicles as buses? Daus: That's an interesting argument. The jury is still out on that one. We're going to be meeting with the New York Department of Transportation to discuss that issue. My understanding is that several operators have registered their long vehicles in the past as buses. However, we need to have adequate assurance from the state DOT that they are going to meet our exacting standards. If that were to be the case and they were to be legally classified by the state as buses, then they would technically be exempt from our regulations, but that's something that we need to work out with the DOT. It's an unresolved issue as of now. We're looking forward to the meeting, and hopefully we'll resolve a lot of the issues and be able to answer a lot of questions that people have after that.
LCT: A lot of operators have asked about being "grandfathered" in or allowing vehicles already operating an exemption for the law, so as not to cause an increased cost to their business. Daus: I think it's premature to even discuss grandfathering because the whole issue that's being raised may be mute. Depending on our meeting with the DOT and depending on the interpretation of our rules prior to enforcing them. The intent of the rules was to go forward and seek licensure of vehicles that come within the scope of the law, and the make it even for everybody.
LCT: What about the response from operators? Daus: I believe that there are a lot of operators who are scared out there. I and may staff have been trying to ease their fears. When operators hear what it is exactly, they understand it and agree with it. I've been trying to get out and go to various groups and let the operators hear it directly from me. We're here to make sure that the standards of safety and regulation are applied equally to everybody. Safety is our major concern and we pass these rules with that in mind.
LCT: So, you are trying to make it an even playing field for all operators, from sedans to super stretches? Daus: It's an issue of fairness. If you are operating a 15-16 passenger vehicle, there's no requirement that the drivers have to get background checks and that they have to get drug tested, or that they have to have defensive driving courses. Why should they be above the law? That's the main question that I have. That's what these rules do, and I think that people in the limo industry are losing sight of that and they're focusing on the amount of passengers or if it's a bus or if you have to get an aftermarket certification. TLC- licensed drivers have to do a lot of things to meet our standards and they are all public safety related. And now, all the people who are operating these big vehicles need to come into compliance with the law and go through our licensing process just like everyone else. Once you make the case and explain the rules people understand it.
LCT: Now that these rules have been established, there comes the question about enforcement. How and when are you going to enforce these new laws? Daus: First, it's not our intention to take vehicles when they're going to proms or weddings. However, that's not to say that if the vehicles don't comply with the law, they are not going to be seized. Not seizing vehicles that are not in compliance is basically applying one set of standards to one group and not to another. Right now we have the authority and the legal mandate to seize vehicles of people who do not have licenses with us who are supposed to, but we're not going to start putting people out of vehhicles and embarrass operators. If we find a vehicle without the proper insurance and it is not licensed - after the enforcement day has been made available to the industry - then I'm not ruling out the fact that we will take the vehicles away. That is what we are required to do. LCT: So, when will enforcement begin? Daus: No official date has been set yet. We're waiting until after we meet with the DOT to establish a date. Then we will make sure that everyone in the industry knows the date. There will also be a period of time where we give notices on the street to people who are not in compliance with the law. We're not going to immediately summons them. We'll give them the opportunity to get licensed if they are eligible. We're gong to give them a chance to come into compliance and not immediately start going after vehicles. After all, we want to get people licensed. No vehicles have been seized yet. Early in September a vehicle was seized for doing point-to-point livery work within the city of New York. Rumors spread that we were enforce new regulations and seizing vehicles. The truth was that the vehicle was seized under regulations that the TLC has enforced for decades