Bills to ensure that passengers are not overcharged in City cabs

City Hall, June 9, 2010 – At today’s Stated Meeting, the Council will vote on three bills that were drafted in the wake of discovering that thousands of passengers had been overcharged in their taxi rides. These bills are intended to ensure that passengers will not get overcharged or scammed.

The Council will also consider a bill meant to preserve public park space by enforcing the boundary of concession stand vendors. In addition, the Council will vote on two resolutions, the first will call on the U.S. Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and in the second support of state legislation that would fight domestic violence.

In an effort to protect New Yorkers and tourists, the Council will vote on a set of bills intended to increase protections for riders and make the TLC complaint process and enforcement actions more transparent.

The first bill would require all taxicabs to be outfitted with equipment that would record and store all fare data, and any other information required by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The bill would also ensure that taxicab riders would be able to obtain their fare information free of charge. Specifically the bill would:

• Require that all taxicabs have equipment, which stores or transmits storage fare data. This would include, but not be limited to, the fare rate, the times or locations such fare rates were in effect, the pick-up and drop-off information, and any other data as required by the TLC.
• Require that all data, stored or transmitted by such equipment, shall be made available in a form and manner as required by TLC.
• Require that a licensed driver’s fare information, including rate of fare and pickup and drop-off information, shall be made available to such driver by the vendors, at no charge to such driver.
• Allow the TLC to set by rule, contract or otherwise, responsibility for compliance with legislation, and for penalties for non-compliance.

“The yellow cab is a New York City symbol, and we at the Council want to ensure that this symbol is not one of corruption and scamming activity,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “This is a bill that will keep your next taxi ride on the high road, making sure that riders pay the right price for their trips. It’s a way to make sure that everyone — riders, drivers and their administrators — is on the same page.”

“Taxi riders have been taken for one too many a ride, and this legislation represents long-overdue reform,” said Council Member James Vacca, Chair of the Transportation Committee. “The public can only protect itself from overcharging if it knows how extensive the problem is and what penalties have been imposed. And the city can only know the full extent of any problem and respond appropriately if it has access to all the data. My bills are about accountability. More than just shedding sunlight, they remove some of the clouds that would be on the horizon if we stood by and relied on administrative remedies that have failed in the past.”

The second bill would also increase transparency by requiring the TLC to:

• Include its annual report, complaints from the public on overcharging, as well as enforcement actions undertaken by the TLC, whether the enforcement action was dismissed or settled, or if a penalty was imposed on the subject;
• Include in its annual report information regarding enforcement actions on illegal street hails, unlicensed vehicles, overcharging, and toll lane infractions;
• Include complaint and enforcement action information in its annual report to be detailed by month, the type of license, subject matter, geographic location; and
• Post the complaint and enforcement information on the TLC’s website, at least on a monthly basis which would not include the parties that reported the complaint.

The last bill would amend the Taxicab Riders’ Bill of Rights to inform passengers of their rights to a taxicab with a working E-Z Pass and the payment of tolls with such pass. This will help protect riders from some taxicab drivers who have used cash lanes, which move slower, resulting in higher fares for such riders.

The Council will also vote on a bill that will ensure that concession operators do not move beyond their boundaries and encroach on public park space.

The bill would require the Department of Parks and Recreation to visibly mark the boundaries of all concessions in parks except for those under two hundred square feet or over two acres, seasonal concessions that operate for fewer than 45 days in a calendar year, or any concessions that operate in three or more boroughs.

The bill would make enforcement easier by making it more apparent when a concession is beyond those boundaries. It will also provide a deterrent for concessionaires to extend beyond the boundaries. It would allow members of the public to be the “eyes and ears” of the Parks Department by more easily allowing them to see concession boundaries, thus making it easier for the public to inform the Parks Department of concessions extending beyond their boundaries.

In addition, the bill would lead to greater transparency by requiring the map displaying the concessions boundaries to be posted online.

“While concessions provide revenue to our City, we must ensure that they do not unnecessarily take away valuable and limited open space,” said Council Member Michael Nelson, prime sponsor of the bill. “This bill will ensure that the public maintains all of the open space that it should have.”

“Many New Yorkers, who fear that public park space, is being eroded by the increasing presence of concessions in our parks has concerns for,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Chair of Parks and Recreation Committee. “This legislation will help regulate the boundaries within which concessions are operating, and will give the public the tools it needs to determine when concessions are out of compliance with space restrictions.”

To encourage more ridership across all five boroughs, the Council will also vote on a bill that allows the State to install up to 50 miles of cameras in bus lanes. This will ensure that other vehicles will not block and slow the speed of traffic in bus lanes.

“Since 2002, when the Upper West Side’s M96 bus received the “Pokey Award” bestowed by NYPIRG’s Straphanger’s campaign for being the slowest route in the City, I have worked with community residents and transportation advocates to improve local and system-wide transit improvements, with an emphasis on bus transit,” said Council Member Gale Brewer, prime sponsor of the bill. “Utilizing cameras to enforce dedicated bus lanes was one of the primary recommendations of my 2007 report on Bus Rapid Transit. Today’s home rule message sends a clear signal to the State Legislature that expedient public transportation in bus lanes is a top priority for the City of New York.”

As the City celebrates Gay Pride Month, the Council will vote on a resolution calling on the U.S. Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass, Don’t Pursue” (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) permits gays and lesbians to serve in the military so long as they do not disclose their sexual orientation and do not engage in homosexual conduct. The law also precludes military officials from inquiring as to the sexual orientation of a service member without credible information indicating homosexual tendencies, and prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation, whether real or perceived. Because of the flawed execution of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” there have been a large number of illegal investigations and more than 14,000 service members have been discharged since 1994 due to their sexual orientation. The continued existence of this discriminatory law is blamed for compelling an average of 4,000 soldiers to voluntarily leave the armed forces each year.

This resolution calls on the United States Congress to pass language in the 2011 Defense Authorization Act that would repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Harass, Don’t Pursue” and to allow lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons to serve openly in the military.

“Such injustices cannot be tolerated in our society,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. “To deny these brave soldiers the right to serve their country is ignorant and unfair — where is the message of freedom and equality if hate is all we teach?”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was wrong when enacted and is wrong now,” said City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “This policy has forced out more than 14,000 brave LGBT men and women from serving in our armed forces. LGBT citizens who want to serve their country and put their lives on the line, deserve the respect and gratitude of our nation. The legislation currently before Congress is a first step in the essential task of making our armed forces safe for LGBT Americans to serve openly. This legislation should be passed immediately.”

“Although DADT was intended to allow gays and lesbians to serve in the military without fear of being harassed or discharged, its flawed execution has resulted in investigations and the discharge of approximately 14,000 plus service members from the military as a result of their sexual orientation,” said Council Member Debi Rose, Chair of the Civil Rights Committee.

The Council will also vote on a resolution that supports State legislation that creates three new classes of crime in order to further deter domestic violence incidents.

Domestic violence situations often involve strangulation, and unless there are visible injuries as required for an assault charge, it is hard to press charges that carry much weight.

According to the New York City Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence in 2009, the NYPD responded to 250,349 domestic violence incidents within the city — an average of over 650 incidents per day. Strangulation and choking are often used in such incidents; according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Institute of Justice, approximately 68 percent of victims of domestic violence report being strangled at least once by their partner. State passage of the bill supported by the pre-considered resolution would close the “strangulation loophole” in New York and ensure that domestic violence perpetrators who strangle or choke their victims are appropriately punished. Almost half the states in the country already have similar legislation.

The resolution is supporting this State bill that would amend the Penal law by creating three new crimes:

1) Criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation (which would be a Class A misdemeanor);
2) Strangulation in the first degree (which would be a Class C felony); and
3) Strangulation in the second degree (which would be a Class D felony).

“It is atrocious that batterers are able to use strangulation as a form of domestic violence and escape serious criminal penalties,” said Council Member Julissa Ferraras, Chair of Women’s Issues Committee. “We need to bring New York State up to the national standard of making obstruction of breathing or blood flow a crime in its own right.”

“We must give our police officers and District Attorneys every necessary tool to arrest and prosecute anyone responsible for such a heinous crime,” said Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Chair of the Public Safety Committee. “Batterers have been getting away with this for too long.”