A Tense 40th Anniversary for NY's Taxi Commission

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(Kathleen Horan, WNYC -- New York) The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s recent monthly meeting was well attended at their new offices on Beaver Street in Lower Manhattan.Yellow cab drivers and others affiliated with the drivers’ group, the Taxi Worker’s Alliance, stood along the back wall of the hearing room closely monitoring the Commission’s discussion about possible rule changes regarding rooftop ads that can be seen affixed to the top of more than 8,000 yellow cabs.

Others in the industry were also accounted for: fleet owners, taxi leasing agents, livery base owners and others whose livelihoods are affected in one way or the other by the TLC.

Various stakeholders had received invites to stick around after the meeting for a reception celebrating the 40th anniversary of the agency whose initials don’t actually abbreviate the words tender loving care.

Rather than a festive birthday party atmosphere, the meeting felt palpably tense. It was the first since the Bloomberg administration won support in Albany for legislation that would legalize street hails for specially permitted livery cars in the outer boroughs.Some in the room had vigorously fought the bill. Arms were tightly folded in many of the chairs as the commissioners went through the day’s agenda.

As the meeting adjourned, various factions of the industry clustered in different areas of the floor like cliques in a high school quad.

The TLC’s longtime press secretary Alan Fromberg asked that people stick around -- that sandwiches were on the way.

When Commissioner David Yassky was asked about the meaning of 40th birthday of the agency that’s responsible for licensing and regulating the city’s cabs and other for-hire vehicles -- he said a lot has changed since 1971 and plenty has stayed the same.

“If you look back over the very first year of the TLC existence they were dealing with two big issues: one was taxis that refused service to Brooklyn and Queens -- still with us -- and the fact that people can’t hail a cab in Brooklyn and Queens and the Bronx, Staten Island. That’s also still with us although I believe we are on the verge of solving that one.”

Yassky said he thinks the great triumph of the TLC has been the establishment and maintenance of the brand: the yellow taxi. The mandate that all NYC metered cabs be uniform yellow predates the TLC by a year -- taxis have been officially yellow since January 1st, 1970 -- but 40 years of brand management leaves Yassky proud.

“It’s been known world wide,  respected, admired and desired... The value of the medallion is the proof of it.The value of the medallion has gone up four times the rate of the stock market! So that tells you the TLC does something right."

Sporting his TLC 40th anniversary commemorative lapel pin (left), Yassky boasted, "600,000 people a day get into cabs. That’s not a bubble that’s real.That revenue is going to keep coming in."

David Pollock who represents a group of medallion owners and taxi leasing agents, agreed that the city did a great thing when they created a medallion system.But he criticized the way the TLC was currently being run, on his way to the elevator.

He added, “we have a commission who want to destroy the same medallion system that had worked so well for 75 years who the whole world looks at and models their own transportation systems after.”

Pollock and others believe the new outer borough street hail rule will devalue yellow medallions who have had the exclusive right to street hails since the 1930’s.

Twenty minutes after the commission meeting adjourned, the sandwiches and drinks hadn’t arrived and the last few taxi driver’s left to go grab lunch before shift change.