In Wake of High-Profile Cases, Fines Will Deter Service Refusals and Overcharging

New York, May 11, 2011 – At today’s Stated Council meeting, members of the City Council will vote on legislation to raise fines for taxi drivers who unlawfully refuse or overcharge passengers. The Council will also vote on a major rezoning in Queens’ South Jamaica neighborhood.

Following several high profile cases where passengers were refused service or overcharged by cab drivers, the Council will vote to increase the maximum fines for:

• Refusing to take a passenger to any destination within the five boroughs
• Charging a fare higher than that set by the Taxi & Limousine Commission
• Unlawfully inquiring where the passenger is going before he or she gets into the taxi

“New Yorkers and visitors from around the world depend on our city’s taxi drivers to get around the city,” said Speaker Quinn. “While most of these drivers provide honest, quality service, this bill will make any driver think twice about denying or overcharging passengers.”

“Too often in this City people are denied a cab ride because of what they look like or where in the City they’re going,” said Transportation Chair James Vacca. “The stories are too many and have gone on for too long. Those who insist on continuing this illegal practice will now pay an even greater price because this Council is determined to see this practice become a thing of the past.”

“As a woman of color who has been refused service by city cab drivers from time to time over the years, it is my hope that raising fines would deter the ‘bad apple’ cab drivers who illegally refuse or overcharge passengers,” said Council Member Debi Rose, a sponsor of the legislation.

Maximum fines for first offenses would increase from $350 to $500. Maximum fines for second offenses within a twenty four month period would increase from $500 to $1,000. Third and future offenses within a thirty six month period would continue to lead to license revocation, but would also include a maximum $1,000 fine for each offense.

The Council will also vote to rezone approximately 538 blocks in South Jamaica. This contextual rezoning seeks to preserve the existing character of neighborhood and ensure that future residential development is consistent with the area’s surrounding neighborhood contexts. In addition, it will provide for increased density along the main corridors, and reduce the depths of commercial overlays along the main thoroughfares. The housing stock in South Jamaica consists largely of detached one and two-family residences, with small concentrations of attached and semidetached homes, and a small percentage of multi-family homes.

“The re-zoning of South Jamaica represents an important step for St. Albans and Springfield Gardens to preserve, protect, and enhance how these communities grow for the next decade,” said Land Use Committee Chair Leroy Comrie. “The extension of the important FRESH program, which would allow for tax incentives for supermarkets to come into the community, is integral for families to have access to healthy, nutritious food. In addition, the implementation of contextual zoning to protect lower density communities will prevent out of character and out of place development. I especially want to thank Ms. Connie Johnson and the ‘One Block At A Time’ civic organization for initially spearheading this important re-zoning. The staff at the Department of City Planning did a tremendous amount of outreach at community board and civic meetings to ensure that this rezoning reflected the needs and wishes of the district. This project represents the strength of our City when citizens and government come together to address how our communities operate for the future.”

The related text amendment seeks to extend the area of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program to the community. Currently the program is applicable only in certain areas including Downtown Jamaica. The FRESH program was adopted by the City Council in December 2009 to provide zoning and financial incentives to encourage the development of grocery stores in underserved areas.