GADGETS ON THE GO: What Should Be Allowed?

Posted on November 25, 2009 by LCT Staff - Also by this author - About the author

NEW YORK — Staff members of the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission told leaders of two prominent chauffeured transportation industry groups last week to come up with suggested exemptions to a proposed TLC policy that would prohibit for-hire drivers in New York City from using most electronic devices, including hands-free cell phones, while driving.

The proposed exemptions — to be recommended by the Limousine Associations of New Jersey and the Luxury Base Operators Association — would be considered at a TLC public hearing on the proposed rules scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 17 at 1:30 p.m.

Barry Lefkowitz, executive director of LANJ, and Sergio Sanchez, president of LBOA, each met separately last week with TLC Commissioner Matt Daus and TLC staff members. The proposal to ban electronic communications while driving — even the use of hands-free cell phoning, GPS navigation panels, and calls to and from dispatch centers — would levy stiff fines and potentially revoke licenses of chauffeurs and cab drivers repeatedly violating the rules. Such a ban could seriously impede the ability of for-hire drivers to routinely communicate with dispatchers and navigate the best routes through traffic.

The TLC measures are in response to rampant cell phone abuse among cabbies, which has become a safety threat and an affront to clients in the back seat.

“I would say overall our meeting was productive and that the TLC clearly recognized that exemptions are needed for limousines and black cars,” Lefkowtiz said of his meeting. “We are in total agreement with them. I told them no one around this table disagrees with the fact that there is a serious problem with distracted drivers. None of us want our drivers texting or on the phones. That’s annoying to the passengers, and it doesn’t look professional. But we need to have the ability for important communications when necessary. They seemed to be in agreement with the premise we set for leeway.”

Sanchez also said Daus is willing to make exemptions, but that as an industry, “we have to come up with what exemptions should be.” The TLC officials appeared open ended about ideas, but not willing to budge on the cell phone issue, Sanchez said. The challenge will be to come up with exemptions that allow chauffeurs to work efficiently while not running afoul of safety measures, he said.

Lefkowitz and Sanchez will be consulting with their respective memberships to devise a list of exemptions and counter-proposals that would allow chauffeurs to at least continue using some electronic devices for basic communications. LANJ and LBOA also are being joined by the Black Car Assistance Corp., which represents the black-car segment of the for-hire vehicle industry. BCAC executive director Victor Dizengoff also has been meeting with TLC officials.

“From a safety standpoint, the ability to communicate with a dispatcher is critical,” Lefkowitz said. “For example, if driver A is driving on a northbound lane of the highway and observes an accident in the southbound lanes, what he needs to do is immediately notify a dispatcher so the dispatcher can notify other drivers so as to avoid the traffic tie-up.”

Speaker phone kits and voice-activated options are two affordable technology alternatives being considered to help operators comply with rules, Lefkowitz said. He pointed out that 85% of industry operators have one to five vehicles and must communicate through cell phones. “You can’t put the industry through the cost of having to have the most up to date technology because they can’t afford it,” he said.

Source: Martin Romjue, LCT Magazine

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