NEW YORK CITY, NY (TIP): New York City Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman introduced, July 23, the Commuter Van Reform Act (CVRA), a package of two bills that will create minimum information requirements within the industry and combat illegally operating and unlicensed van services.
Over the past twelve months a number of shootings and car chases involving commuter vans have occurred, exposing the dangerous underbelly of this industry, legally host to 344 vans and 301 drivers among 46 bases. In this era of Vision Zero, these incidents have triggered great concern over standards within the van industry and, as of last week, the Taxi & Limousine Commission adopted rules requiring that all legal commuter vans, often known as “dollar vans” display decals verifying their license to operate.
While the decal provision is a first step, in communities impacted by criminal activity and subpar service provided by the commuter vans, it is but only a small step towards measures that are needed to reign in the industry and raise standards. In January 2015 Queen Community Board 12, home to one of the highest van populations in the City, called on the Department of Transportation to issue a moratorium on commuter van applications operating in its jurisdiction as “van owners and operators continue to violate traffic rules and regulations”, including illegally idling in bus stops while soliciting commuters. At a March 2014 City Council hearing the TLC acknowledged issues within the commuter van industry with Chief Operating Officer Conan Freud offering that many more vehicles were operating on the street than licensed by DOT and overseen by TLC.
The CVRA, if passed by the Council and enacted by the Mayor, will allow the City to begin to address legal, safety, and service issues within this industry.
The first part of the Act (Intro 860) requires the Taxi & Limousine Commission to collect data and perform a study, to be repeated annually, on the state of the legal and illegal commuter van industry. A moratorium on new van licenses will be implemented until the first annual study is released. This study will report data long missing that will become essential to maintaining proper transportation standards in communities populated by the vans, including Eastern Queens, Central and South Brooklyn, and Chinatown.
The Act’s second bill (Intro 861) serves to raise fines for violations related to commuter vans and for illegally operating a commuter van to $3,000 for a first offense and$4,000 for second and subsequent offenses within two years. Currently, illegally operating a van carries a $500 fine for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense, with all other violations carrying a fine of $1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for a second offense – penalty levels that have done little to stem the “revolving door” of illegally operating and unlicensed vans. These higher penalty levels will also serve to level the playing field for licensed operators delivering services who follow applicable regulations and laws, including paying licensing fees and insurance.
The CVRA has been referred to the Committee on Transportation since its introduction at the Council meeting on Thursday, July 23.