The bill would put more strict laws and regulations in place regarding inspection and operation.
NEW YORK CITY — The Coalition of Transportation Associations (COTA) hosted its first regional event on Sept. 21 in Long Island City, bringing more than 200 association leaders and members from the area to a conference to discuss legislative and regulatory issues which affect all of them.
The organization was launched in November 2011 by former New York City Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Matt Daus, who is its president and a partner in the New York law firm of Windels Marx Lane & Mittendorf. He is also the president of the International Association of Transportation Regulators.
Power in numbers
“We have just given birth to a 900 pound gorilla,” Daus quipped during opening remarks. “This organization is going to be amazing. We have five ‘families’ united to fight causes. They are the Black Car Assistance Corporation, Luxury Base Operators Association, Limousine Association of New York, the Limousine Associations of New Jersey and the Long Island Limousine Association. This group has power in its numbers. For the first time, we as a whole can fight stupid public policy while also providing education to our members.”
The group was formed when area members got together to discuss a proposed change in the insurance requirements in New York City, Daus said. COTA now is currently working to eliminate the sales tax on service in New York and to address issues with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission on inspections of new vehicles.
Daus believes the industry needs fewer regulations than other industries such as taxicabs because of the nature of limousine clients. “If your car is not the best and your service is not great, the client will fire you,” Daus said.
New York City Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky was the guest speaker for the event. He swore in the board members of the newly formed organization.
“Thank you for including me. I am thrilled and delighted that this group has organized,” Yassky said. “We want to continue to work with the industry as a partner. When you are doing well, the TLC is doing well. We will always have tons of issues, especially about apps. The only constant these days is change. We will work with the industry and the public to tackle these issues. We will work with all of the stakeholders. New York City is at the forefront for technology. . . Our rules need to be modernized. How do you integrate security and credit card security? With taxi applications, we only had one leak and it wasn’t because of the technology, but rather the processors. We take security extremely serious,” Yassky said.
Rogue smartphone apps
The hot topic of the day was “rouge” applications for smart phones. These applications are popping up daily, allowing passengers to street hail vehicles from their smart phones and have the ride dispatched directly to the driver.
“This is a serious topic for everyone in this room,” Daus said. “Smart phone applications could be the greatest thing to hit this industry or they could be the beginning of the end for the industry especially the small to mid sized companies.”
“The app world today is the wild, wild west,” he said. “Every day we see new apps. Some are real and nice and some are rogue. The problem is the way the work is handled. Base stations in New York City are losing drivers because they no longer need the base to get work. All apps are not created equal. These apps can exploit the definitions between taxi and sedan and limo services.”
Those using cell phone applications are dealing with third party companies who are booking the vehicles directly from the client and giving it out to the operators. Accountability for the applications companies to use licensed drivers who are permitted and properly insured is lacking. The application companies are not being held accountable, Daus explained.
This calls to the forefront the issue of public safety as well as the issue of fair fares. Daus cited an example of supply and demand on days such as New Year’s Eve where price gouging could come into play. Another factor with the applications is meters. With some applications, the smart phone essentially becomes a taxi meter.
With the slow economic conditions, some companies are “sipping the Kool-Aid,” Daus said. He cautioned that those businesses could lose customers who now are no longer loyal to their company but instead move their allegiance to the app.
“Don’t lose your brand,” Daus said. “Work to protect your business and to develop applications which preserve your brand. Only contract with legal apps. Be careful of the contracts you sign. Apps have no liability and they can leave you holding the bag.”
Daus explained that the IATR will be writing model regulations that can be used throughout the country on these applications. They are working with the Taxi Limousine and Paratransit Association to ensure that it is a level playing field for all apps.
“Regulators are looking for leadership and we will give it,” Daus said. “Rogue apps are funding lawsuits across the country to attack minimal fares. They are pushing regulators through their lobbyists by going over their heads. What mayor wants to be viewed as unfriendly to technology?” Daus asked. “The crisis is now. They will eat our lunch if we don’t do something about them.”
Daus recommended that the group work with the regulators as a unified front to fight these rogue applications.
Good vs. bad apps
As part of the session, a number of legitimate app companies made presentations. Get Taxi was launched a year ago in Israel. Jing Wang Herman, CEO of GetTaxi, explained that their application would allow the riding public to have an option of using a taxi at one fare or a black car or limousine at a different fare based on wait time and availability.
“In other areas we have gone directly to the drivers and given each training,” Herman said. “In New York City, we have no plans to do this. Our app will make black cars as available as taxis. The changing of a black car into a taxi should make all of you thrilled.”
But some attendees were not so thrilled. The clear distinction between taxis and black cars and how they are dispatched and regulated is the basis of the regulations in New York City. Apps such as these will blur those lines.
Bill de Blasio encourages business
The day ended with an address from New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio.
“I didn’t know a lot about this industry when I became public advocate,” de Blasio said. “This industry is foundational to everything that is New York City. I would have thought that this was a very prosperous industry which works well with city government,” he joked. “I would not have expected the Chairman [Yassky] to take sport of an industry we so desperately need. It is important that this group has organized to make your voice heard. It is unhealthy when there is an imbalance. In all my time working with city government, I have not had a constituent say we need more street hails.”
“You are job creators,” he continued. “You are the true New York story. Often immigrants get a job driving a taxi or black car. We have failed the test in first doing no harm as a city. I want the industry to be strong and stable. The city needs to sit with the stakeholders and the businesses. We are in the greatest economic crisis of all times. We need to take special pains to protect businesses to ensure that they make it through. There are few industries that have been hurt as hard as this one. Our job is to help you through. I encourage you to work together and get your voices heard and work together to amplify your voice. Your businesses matter. You should be respected and supported. If you do it right, you will be there to take the next step.”
— Linda Jagiela, LCT contributing writer, reporting for LCT. All photos by Linda Jagiela.
Related Topics: BCAC, COTA, David Yassky, industry regulations, LANJ, LANY, LBOA, LILA, limo associations, Matt Daus, mobile applications, New Jersey operators, New York operators, New York Taxi & Limousine Commission, smartphones
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