Joseph Scifo, a representative from the New York City Drivers Assistance Corporation, speaks to LILA members as the LILA board looks on.
PLAINVIEW, NY— Members of the Long Island Limousine Association (LILA) have seen a drastic rise recently in the number of chauffeured vehicles seized by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). Many of these seizures are based on unfounded claims of illegal point-to-point service within New York City, LILA leaders said. Association members are based mostly in Suffolk and Nassau Counties but make frequent trips into New York City for drop-offs and pick-ups.
To inform membership on the problem, LILA invited Joseph Scifo, a representative from the New York City Drivers Assistance Corporation, an organization which offers legal representation for TLC summonses, to speak at its May membership meeting.
Several LILA operators claim their drivers have been unfairly stopped and intimidated by TLC officers. Second vice president Matt Silver of Ultimate Class Limousines has had two vehicles impounded by the NYC TLC.
“Both experiences have been very unpleasant,” Silver said. The TLC officer threatened to arrest his chauffeur, even presenting handcuffs, if he did not comply. Feeling intimidated, the chauffeur began to answer questions and eventually the vehicles were impounded.
“What we were doing wasn’t wrong,” Silver said. “I asked for a supervisor to report to the scene but was told, ‘You’re too late. We’ve already called the tow truck.’”
Silver feels the TLC is seizing vehicles unlawfully in the hopes that operators will settle the issue by paying fees instead of incurring the greater costs of contesting the seizure and loss of vehicle use.
Scifo supported this claim. “They’re seizing vehicles left and right,” he said. The TLC is ignoring a reciprocity agreement which allows operators in other municipalities or states to cross borders for continuous trips, he said. (For example, a New Jersey operator transporting a client from New Jersey to JFK or a New York City operator taking a client from Manhattan to Newark.)
During a traffic stop, TLC officers will try to establish that the chauffeur is conducting a point-to-point job, and will often question the passengers separately, fishing for sufficient information to make a seizure, Scifo said. “They are taking to the extreme and basically saying, ‘Prove it to the judge.’”
Additionally, Scifo said that hearings are typically scheduled for the maximum 15 days from seizure to increase vehicle storage fees and loss-of-use costs.
Members of the Limousine Associations of New Jersey have reported similar experiences in recent months.
LILA will investigate what legal options they may have to contest TLC seizures and operators’ rights when dealing with TLC officers.
Repealing NY Limo Tax
LILA leadership is also rallying the association to support the current effort to repeal limo sales tax in New York State. Similar bills to this effect have been introduced in the New York State Senate and Assembly. LILA President Robert Cunningham of Platinum Limousine urged member operators to contact their local Assembly representatives and Senators to show their support for the repeal and communicate the burden the sales tax puts on small businesses.
Additional information on the effort and contact information for state representatives can be found here.
Related article: RECIPROCITY: Operators Gain Mobility In NYC Area
Related article: Targeting Town Cars: NY Ticketeers Feed Their Frenzy
— Denis Wilson, LCT East Coast Editor