BY KIRSTEN E. PAULSON
Two local lawmakers are pushing for passage of legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal commuter van activity across the city.
Three bills focused on commuter van operations that Councilmen I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman co-sponsored were considered during the Oct. 22 meeting of the City Council’s Transportation Committee.
Introduction 570 would repeal the current Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) requirement that commuter vans operate on a prearrangement basis and maintain a passenger manifest, as well as the requirement that they renew their license every six years.
Introduction 860 would provide for the requirement of a study of safety issues in the commuter van industry. It would also suspend new commuter van licenses until the study is completed. Under the bill, the TLC would conduct a study of the commuter van industry and include information on safety issues, data on vans, buses and drivers, information on illegal commuter vans, and other information necessary to maintain proper transportation standards throughout the city. The study would have to be submitted to the City Council and posted online by March 1, 2016.
Finally, Introduction 861 would raise the civil penalty for violating any law or rule related to commuter vans. Currently, the fine is $1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for second and subsequent offenses within two years. The current fine for illegally operating a commuter van is $500 to $1,000 for a first offense and $1,000 to $2,500 for second and subsequent offenses within two years. Introduction 861 would raise the fine for any violation or illegal van operation to $3,000 for a first offense and $4,000 for second and subsequent offenses within two years.
“We are thrilled to finally begin to address this often unregulated and substandard industry. The hearing was a great opportunity to discuss impactful reform that will help to raise standards and provide our communities with the transportation service they deserve,” Miller said following the meeting. “The proliferation of illegal and illegally functioning vans presents a real problem and I am proud that we have been able to work with a wide array of stakeholders in moving towards a meaningful legislative package.”
“Rogue commuter van operators endanger riders and pedestrians every day,” Lancman added. “By gathering more data on the industry and increasing fines for violations, we will create a climate where van operators stop running through regulations and start following the rules.”
“In Southeast Queens, residents rely heavily on commuter vans due to a lack of reliable transportation options, but there needs to be stronger enforcement by the TLC,” said Councilman Donovan Richards. “There is no coordination in our districts, so there needs to be designated stops to bring more order to the commuter van industry. I’d like to thank Council member Miller for introducing these bills and I look forward to seeing a response from the TLC on potential reforms.”
The issue of commuter van reforms is expected to come up again on Oct. 27 during a Southeast Queens Transportation Town Hall hosted by Councilmen Richards and Miller. According to Miller’s office, representatives from Access-A-Ride will also be present at the Town Hall.