After Wednesday’s fatal hit-and-run incident in Rosedale, one local politician is pushing the city for increased commuter van safety.
Councilman I. Daneek Miller is looking to crack down on the increased criminal activity stemming from the commuter van industry, which is regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The industry has seen a tide of crime over the last year, from hit-and-runs and crashes to shootings.
A 16-year-old girl was killed in the accident at the corner of Sunrise Highway and Francis Lewis Boulevard; according to Miller, a commuter van struck the victim and fled the scene eastbound on Sunrise Highway.
In a sector rife with sub-par safety and standards, Miller said, there is concern that authorized drivers are not always the ones behind the wheel. At an October 2015 City Council hearing, the Council learned that available Department of Transportation (DOT) licensed commuter vans nearly outnumbered licensed van drivers two to one, with 534 licensed vans and only 289 licensed drivers.
By comparison, yellow and for-hire vehicle sectors have maintained an equal or surplus number of licensed drivers per licensed vehicle, ensuring that authorized drivers are behind the wheel each time.
There is a fear that this lack of oversight and enforcement has led to reckless driving and increased hit-and-run incidents, according to Miller.
“The laws that govern the commuter van industry are perfectly incompatible with our safe streets mission under Vision Zero and I am deeply disappointed that city agencies have not lifted a finger to help keep residents safe,” Miller said.
He added that there had been resistance from both the DOT and TLC toward the Commuter Van Reform Act (CVRA), legislation he proposed alongside Councilman Rory Lancman last fall in an effort to rein in industry recklessness. The bills seek to suspend issuance of new commuter van licenses pending a safety study of the industry, and to increase fines to $3,000 for a first offense and $4,000 for subsequent offenses for illegally operating a commuter van without a license.
The legislation was presented at the City Council Committee on Transportation in October 2015, where the TLC objected to the safety study and moratorium on license issuance.
Miller is also looking to close a loophole that exempts a number of licensed TLC vehicles from penalties for fleeing TLC enforcement agencies. Only green borough taxis are currently subject to criminal penalties for such. Under the new bill, commuter vans, yellow taxis, and for-hire vehicles would also be subject to a misdemeanor charge and $2,500 fine for a crime punishable by 90 days’ imprisonment.
“We need safety reform to rein in this wild west industry,” Miller argued, “because our mothers and fathers will not tolerate the continued loss of life to rouge and unregulated drivers.”