Comet has received numerous complaints about commuter vans from folks in Maspeth, Elmhurst and Woodside/Winfield. Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has introduced a bill, Intro 635-A, that takes a step to allow more transparency with regard to commuter van companies and their routes. At the present time, it is difficult - if not impossible - to find out what commuter vans are operating in a given community, community board or council district. It would also allow for input from the community boards and council members.
This is your opportunity to voice your support and bring up concerns that you have with regard to these vans! Instructions follow and Intro 635-A is attached.
There will be a hearing on October 31, 2013 on Council Member Crowley’s commuter van legislation. You or any interested party can e-mail a statement to Lyle Frank, counsel to the Transportation Committee, by the hearing date, to comment on the legislation. Mr. Frank’s e-mail address is LFrank@council.nyc.gov. Please also cc JMailman@council.nyc.gov.
If you would like to attend this hearing in person, the New York City Council Committee on Transportation will hold a hearing on Thursday, October 31, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. in the 14th Floor Committee Room, 250 Broadway, New York, NY regarding this bill.
By Council Members Crowley, Fidler, Gentile, James, Koppell, Koslowitz, Mealy, Rose, Rivera, Vallone, Gonzalez, Nelson, Mark-Viverito, Rodriguez and Ulrich
A LOCAL LAW
To amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to requiring community board notification following the establishment of a commuter van route and online publication of such routes.
Be it enacted by the Council as follows:
Section 1. Paragraph (2) of subdivision f of section 19-504.2 of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended to read as follows:
(2) Any determination by the commission to approve an application for authorization to operate a commuter van service pursuant to this section shall be in writing and shall be submitted to the council and the affected community boards within five days of such determination being made. [Within twenty days of such submission the council may adopt a resolution by majority vote of all council members to review that determination.]
§2. Subdivision k of section 19-504.2 of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended by adding a new sub paragraph iii to read as follows:
(iii) The department of city planning shall submit to the mayor, the council and all community boards copies of the final report reflecting the results of any future commuter van service policy studies conducted under the auspices of the department of city planning or any other city agency, or any similar study, within five business days of completion of any such study.
§3. Section 19-504.2 of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended by adding a new subdivision l to read as follows:
l. Upon issuing an authorization to operate a commuter van service, the commission shall post on its website the geographic area which will be served by the applicant, the maximum number of commuter vans to be operated by the applicant, and shall provide links to all New York city laws and rules governing the capacity of commuter vans.
§4. This local law shall take effect ninety days after its enactment into law.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley of Queens will introduce a bill Thursday requiring the Taxi and Limousine Commission to train police officers to identify illegal commuter vans so that they single out the right vehicles and drivers when they set out to enforce their operation.
The commission would also have to create a guide summarizing the many cumbersome regulations that licensed van drivers must abide by -– from the types of licenses they must have to where they are allowed to circulate and the kinds of violations they might face.
The bill (see here [pdf] and below)comes at a time when the city is trying to rein in the commuter-van industry, which offers the closest alternative to a public transportation system in neighborhoods where bus or subway service is limited or nonexistent. Vans have operated with little oversight in recent years, fostering cut-throat competition among legal and illegal drivers that has had them bend the rules of traffic and official regulations as they battle it out for fares.
Ms. Crowley said that complaints against illegal vans have ranked high among the issues she had heard from constituents since taking office last year. The problem seems particularly grave in Maspeth, Queens, she said, where commuter vans are not allowed to circulate, but do so anyway, mostly without a license.
“I look at it mostly as a public safety issue,” she said. “Many of these vans are operating dangerously and illegally. If they want to continue to do what they’re doing, they have to abide by the law or else face the consequences.”
C.O.M.E.T. (Citizens of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together) President Roe Daraio never paid any attention to the commuter vans that operate throughout Queens until several members of her civic group made complaints about double-parked vans on residential streets in Maspeth and passengers that littered while they waited to be picked up. Suddenly, she started noticing the vans everywhere.
She decided to look into the commuter van routes, but was unable to find that information, so she made a FOIL (Freedom Of Information Law) request from the city. She received a packet of maps clearly indicating the geographic zone in which each van authority is allowed to operate. Information for Transxpress and J&HE, the van authorities that Daraio has received the most complaints about, was not included.
However, Daraio maintains that the commuter van issue never went before Community Board 5, a detail confirmed by CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano, who has held the post for 20 years.
According to Giordano, TLC-regulated vehicles are required to come before the board with base station applications and renewals, but he said that the protocol for commuter vans is unclear as the board has never been presented with an application or renewal for commuter van authorities.
Daraio said, “The lack of enforcement by TLC in our area is basically giving the green light to commuter van companies to operate outside of their authorized zones.”
A QUEENS civic association is offering a fresh idea to help the cash-strapped MTA - force more locals to ride the bus.
Commuter vans that illegally operate along bus routes in Maspeth have long poached fares from the struggling Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said Roe Daraio, president of Citizens of Maspeth and Elmhurst Together.
Stricter enforcement of the gypsy van drivers, who block driveways and intersections to pick up passengers for about $2 a pop, could help the city generate more money in fines and prompt more people to pay for a MetroCard, Daraio said.
"These people will pay their own salaries," Daraio said of getting more Taxi & Limousine Commission agents to patrol the local bus routes.
"The lack of enforcement by TLC in our area is basically giving the green light to commuter van companies to operate outside their authorized zones," Daraio said.
C.O.M.E.T. President Roe Daraio and members of the group are livid over the inaction of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to crack down on the unauthorized commuter van activity in Maspeth, South Elmhurst and Woodside. Daraio stated, “The lack of enforcement by TLC in our area is basically giving the green light to commuter van companies to operate outside of their authorized zones.”
Every day commuter vans prowl residential streets, pick up passengers along bus routes (currently prohibited under TLC regulations) and block intersections and residents’ driveways. According to Daraio, numerous requests to the agency to enforce their regulations have fallen upon deaf ears. She said the local precincts are sympathetic to the problem but are not trained to write many of the summonses necessary to curtail the activity. Since crime is up and the officers are needed for patrol, it is unlikely that they will be trained in the near future. What many folks find interesting is that the City has no problem summonsing a motorist who is parked at an expired parking meter, is double-parked or is dropping someone off at a bus stop, but does no enforcement of commuter van companies blatantly disobeying regulations. A crackdown would likely collect tens of thousands of dollars in revenue that the City could use during this budget crisis, not to mention improve the quality of life of the people living in neighborhoods plagued by illegally operating commuter vans.
In April 2009, C.O.M.E.T. met with TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus to discuss the lack of enforcement of commuter van regulations. Issues brought up included: companies discriminating as to whom is picked up, the lack of information about routes and destinations, why a particular route was approved or even phone numbers to contact companies to schedule rides. The meeting resulted in a few summonses being written but with no follow up. To obtain the route information, C.O.M.E.T. was told they needed to make a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request, and at the time of the meeting TLC claimed they didn’t even know where the authorized routes were in the area. Other complaints about the commuter vans - including reporting a licensed van that did not have any name or markings on it - went unaddressed and the activity continues today.
After FOILing the commuter van routes, C.O.M.E.T. made a startling discovery: only one commuter van company is authorized in the Community Board 4 area and that route does not encompass Elmhurst south of Queens Boulevard and does not extend into Woodside or Maspeth. That means every single commuter van operating in these areas is doing so illegally.
Daraio said, “Apparently rules were not made for everyone and the City is just allowing these companies to get away with their illegal practices with no enforcement. Instead of collecting revenue by summonsing rogue companies, it’s probably easier to just raise residents’ taxes.”
Folks continue to see commuter vans driving in the Maspeth/Woodside area, communities where they are not authorized to pick up or drop off. People say the vans are pulling into private driveways, backing out of side streets, and blocking traffic while they pick up or discharge passengers. Elmhurst residents experience similar problems to a more extensive degree because the commuter vans are authorized to operate there.
To complicate things, we have found out some the commuter vans that you have been seeing picking up and discharging people are not considered commuter vans. We have been told that any commuter van with “BA” at the end of their license plate number is considered a bus. At this point we assume the vans with “LA” at the end of their license plate are considered commuter vans. NYC Department of Transportation is in charge of the “BA” license plates while NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) is in charge of the “LA” license plates. If you think that is complicated, we are now seeing commuter vans with a “T” at the beginning of their license plate number and a “C” at the end. This is now being investigated and we are curious as to what the answer will be.
We have been notified that the NYC TLC has undertaken a project to revise its existing rule book. During the first phase of the rules revision project, all of the existing rules will be redrafted, then posted on a chapter-by-chapter basis on the TLC Website for review and discussion by interested members of the public. We are hopeful that we can propose some changes that will be instrumental in resolving the ongoing problems that we have been dealing with.
Dominic Collucio, Special Assistant to the Commissioner has promised to send COMET President Roe Daraio a copy of the commuter van guidelines and NYC DOT guidelines pertaining to the commuter buses. Everyone in COMETland will just have to wait for the next chapter to find out if we will, in fact, unravel the commuter van and commuter bus dilemma/mystery.