ABOUT PHOTO: Among featured guests at the Livery Round Table’s First summit meeting were (L to R): Tarek Mallah, Assemblyman Mica Kellner, Avik Kabassa, Senator Adriano Espillat, Mamadou Kane, Darlyn Sanchez, Commissioner David Yassky, Pedro Heredia, and Jose Viloria. (Photo by Isseu Diouf).
LIVERY INDUSTRY FORUM: Street hails are not allowed for livery services on the streets of New York City, but illegal ones happen anyway. Should they become legal?
NEW YORK — The New York Livery Roundtable held its first summit and mini-convention Feb. 3 at the Marriott LaGuardia where it gathered operators from the city’s diverse mix of livery services for a day of networking and forums.
The Livery Round Table (LRT) includes more than 18,000 New York City livery drivers, 350 base owners and more than 8,000 phone operators and dispatchers.
Many guest-speakers such as State Sen. Martin Dilan, Assemblyman Mica Kellner and Sen. Adriano Espillat came to reiterate their support for the industry. But the most interesting part was certainly the address of David Yassky, Commissioner of the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission who touched on a very sensitive topic: street hails.
Officially, livery drivers don’t have the right to pick up street hails, so a passenger that needs a ride should call to book a pick up at a set time and date. But in reality, livery drivers have been taking passengers on the street for years and the possibility of legalizing this practice seems to worry many base owners.
Indeed, base owners are afraid to lose the fees, varying between $40 and $120 that every cab driver pays every week to its affiliated base to get calling customers. Some bases own more than 600 vehicles.
On the other hand, Commissioner Yassky is trying to fill the need of many customers in outer boroughs who want to be able to hail a legal cab safely without having to call ahead of time.
“There is a market, a large market towards hail service outside of Manhattan… We are working on accessibility and making sure that everyone has access to the livery industry… We want to do this in a way that works.”
Yassky is focused on the issue, especially after a public endorsement from Mayor Michael Bloomberg who said in his last State of the City address: "And why shouldn't someone in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, or Staten Island be able to hail a legal cab on the street? 97% of yellow cab pick-ups happen in Manhattan or at the airports, although 80% percent of New Yorkers live outside of Manhattan.
“This year, we'll establish a new category of livery cars that can make on-street pickups outside of Manhattan. It will give New Yorkers in all five boroughs another safe, reliable and convenient option for getting around. Because whether you're standing on 42nd Street in Manhattan or 42nd Street in Sunset Park, Brooklyn or 42nd Street in Sunnyside, Queens, you ought to be able to hail a cab.”
Commissioner Yassky promises that the rules will not change. Dial-ahead service will still be available and bases will have the choice to adopt street hail or not. But for those who decide to go for it, legalization comes up with its set of rules. “If a car is going to act like a taxi, it has to be equipped like a taxi.”
And by equipment the Commissioner means:
• A uniform fare and color for the livery cabs.
• A roof light to signal availability.
• A meter.
• A GPS.
• English language proficiency and geographic test for the driver.
• Acceptance of credit and debit card.
• Possibility for a livery cab that takes a fare into Manhattan to take a fare back out of Manhattan.
For Avik Kabessa, CEO of CARMEL CAR & LIMOUSINE SERVICE, and a permanent founding board member of the Livery Round Table, this is not good news.
“I can’t tell you that I sleep quietly at night. Everybody is in a panic and we are assessing the situation,” Kabessa said. “They believe that they have the solution; we think that they don’t know enough, but our line of communication with them is very solid. We know for a fact that there is illegal street hail being done; we know for a fact that some passengers are afraid and they will feel safer if all this is recognized. Overall, I don’t think that the gap between us and the Taxi & Limousine Commissioner is that big, if we explain to them how it can work.”
Yassky knows that it will take time to implement those changes, but his biggest challenge will certainly be to find a balance satisfactory to both sides.
— Isseu Diouf, reporting for LCT Magazine