Miller pushes for reform of illegal commuter vans

By Sadef Ali Kully

A five-point transit legislative plan unveiled last week by Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St.Albans) includes targeting illegal operators in the commuter van industry and improving public transportation in the area.

The transit proposal, dubbed “the Five E’s,” wants to equalize commuter rail fares and eliminate two-fare zones; enact the Commuter Van Reform Act; extend express bus service; expand Vision Zero; and ensure proper funding for transit.

Miller, a member of the City Council Committee on Transportation, said in a statement “the Five E’s are a how-to guide for New York to equitably deliver transportation services to communities throughout the city, even in far-flung neighborhoods.”

Miller, the former co-chairman of the MTA Labor Coalition and past president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1056, said there is no need to raise tolls on New Yorkers or build billion-dollar new subway lines when existing commuter rail lines, such as the LIRR and Metro-North, are already in place.

“It is vital that we efficiently utilize services and resources that exist within the system, whether it is commuter rails, express bus service, or otherwise,” he said.

But the focus for Miller also included regulating the commuter van industry.

Last month the City Council Committee on Transportation hosted a hearing to examine the state of New York City’s commuter van industry.

Commuter vans are cheap mode of transportation popular in immigrant communities in southeastern Queens neighborhoods, Flushing and parts of Brooklyn where public transportation can be scarce. For $1.50 to $2, van passengers travel from Jamaica’s transit hub to parts of Cambria Heights, Rosedale or the Rockaways.

At the hearing, three pieces of legislation were discussed — Intro 570, Intro 860 and 861 — on commuter van reform.

Intro 570 would repeal a current TLC rule that allows vans to make hails legal, requires drivers to maintain a passenger list and eliminates a requirement for license renewals every six years; Intro 860 would suspend new commuter van licenses pending the completion of a safety study; and Intro 861 would increase the fines for illegally operating a commuter van to $3,000 for a first offense and $4,000 for second and subsequent offenses within two years.

The Council’s Transportation Committee reported that in 2014 there were 289 licensed commuter van drivers and 534 licensed commuter vans among 50 authorized service providers. There is no official city data on how many illegal vans operate across the city.

During the hearing, TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi expressed support for Intros 861 and 570, but expressed reservations on Intro 860. Community Board 12 representatives also spoke in support of regulations, while unions representatives did express support for the reforms but also urged the committee to make amendments.

Reach Reporter Sadef Ali Kully by e-mail at skully@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4546.

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