EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. — In the last few months, major recent changes in regulations in New York City and the state of New Jersey will in one way or another affect all limo operators doing business in one or both states.
To make sure all operators are aware of the changes, the Limousine Associations of New Jersey will hold a midday luncheon meeting Wednesday, March 17 at 35 Kimberly Road in East Brunswick to: 1) Explain requirements under the new New Jersey limousine law that was signed Jan. 18 and takes effect April 19; 2) Reaffirm new regulations passed by the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission in December 2009 that restrict uses of electronic devices by drivers of for-hire vehicles registered with the TLC.
New Jersey Limo Law
Overall, the New Jersey limo law benefits the chauffeured transportation industry by bringing Avis WeDriveU under the same regulations as chauffeured transportation, eliminating local/municipality fees on chauffeured service, and increasing the number of passengers legally allowed in a stretch limousine.
One provision in the law requires stepped up enforcement of criminal background checks for all chauffeurs, effective April 19. Representatives from the state motor vehicle commission will be on hand to explain how operators should follow procedures for the background checks and properly fill out forms. The law has always been on the books, but very loosely enforced.
The fine for employing a chauffeur or driver without a background check is $500; the cost to get a background check is $51 per driver. All licensed drivers will need an endorsement on their licenses indicating a valid criminal background check.
“It behooves everyone to do it,” said Barry Lefkowitz, executive director of LANJ. “We made the new law so it is easier for operators. Instead of having federal and state background checks, you just have to do a state police background check, and it will save quite a bit of money. The law requires the driver to pay for it.”
Lefkowitz estimated about one-eighth of drivers in New Jersey were properly registered before the limo law passed, but those who already have a CDL (commercial driver’s license) to chauffeur vehicles with 8 passengers or more do not need to go through the criminal background check process again.
Additionally and no less important is the new “distracted driver rules” in NYC. Departing Commissioner Matt Daus, NYC TLC, is going to brief you on the new regulations and say goodbye as he has resigned as Chairman after two terms and will soon be leaving for the private sector.
New York TLC Rules
Outgoing NY TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus will be a guest of honor at the LANJ meeting to receive a token of appreciation for his cooperative approach in working with the chauffeured transportation to revise the TLC rules. He also will explain the new rules governing uses of electronic devices within NYC limits, and be on hand to answer operator questions.
The new rules, which took effect Jan. 29, forbid TLC-licensed for-hire drivers from using cell phones, either manual or hands-free, while driving a for-hire vehicles. That ban includes the popular Bluetooth technology that has become vital to many fleet drivers nationwide. Cell phone use among for-hire drivers on the streets of New York spiraled out of control last year as more and more drivers were either involved in accidents or near-misses, and passengers complained of rude, inattentive drivers, mostly in taxi-cabs.
Lefkowitz reiterated that the TLC rules apply only to point to point for-hire transportation within the city limits of New York by operators registered with the TLC.
For example, if a New Jersey operator picks up a client from JFK International Airport, and then takes that client back into New Jersey, the TLC rules do not apply to that chauffeur since he/she is engaged in an interstate trip. That chauffeur may use Bluetooth. The same leeway applies if that chauffeur is taking a client from the airport on a day-long as-directed run among multiple points in New York City (intermediate stops) — as long as the chauffeur takes the client out of New York City at the end of the day to complete an interstate trip, the TLC electronics rules do not apply.
However, if a New Jersey-based chauffeur takes a client from JFK and drops him off at a hotel in Manhattan, for example, the TLC rules on electronic devices apply, since it qualifies as point-to-point transportation within TLC-governed areas of New York City. Law enforcement officers can verify runs and destinations by asking chauffeurs for trip logs.
“If you are not operating point to point in New York, then the TLC has to honor the rules and laws of where you are registered through reciprocity,” Lefkowitz said.
TLC rules do allow all chauffeurs and drivers to communicate for no more than 30 seconds via dashboard-mounted dispatch devices with push buttons while a vehicle is underway. Drivers cannot hold any devices nor use any type of ear-based microphones or headsets.
“We recognize it is a serious problem and recognize the fact that drivers who abuse having a cell phone are not professional,” Lefkowitz said. “We want to be able to do the right thing.”
— Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine