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Mayor signs dollar van reforms

The mayor signed legislation aimed at regulating the commuter van industry.
By Patrick Donachie

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation earlier this month aimed at better regulating the commuter van industry, while cutting down on the preponderance of illegal van drivers.

Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Brooklyn) sponsored one piece of legislation signed by the mayor Feb. 15, while Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D–St. Albans) sponsored two pieces of legislation that would mandate a Council study on commuter van usage in the city and increase the fines that could be levied against illegal drivers.

“Since I can remember, commuter dollar vans have been a part of everyday life for residents of southeast Queens,” Miller said at the signing. “These businesses try to provide a service that the MTA is not, and because they were poorly regulated, it has created an unsafe environment for commuters and drivers alike.”

Commuter vans are common throughout southeast Queens as well as other areas with limited public transit options. Many vans travel back and forth between the center of downtown Jamaica and outlying residential areas, delivering commuters to and from the bus and subway options available there.

“They fill the gap in transportation-starved areas,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, commuter drivers often get painted with a broad brush and are accused of infractions that legal drivers are not committing.”

The legislation sponsored by Williams would create parity between legal commuter van drivers and other livery services, eliminating the need for operators to petition in order to receive operating approval and to maintain records of “prearrangement” of customers. But the city Department of Transportation would still have the power to revoke the operating authority of commuter van operators.

Miller’s legislation hikes the penalties against illegal commuter van operators for a maximum fine of $3,000 for the first violation and $4,000 for the second violation if it is committed within two years of the first violation.

The legislation follows the fatal hit-and-run of a Rosedale teenager in February 2016 by a commuter van.

Miller’s other piece of legislation mandates that only 735 licenses for commuter vans would be issued in the city, contingent on the results of a Council report to be completed by July 1, 2017.

The report will detail the number of safety violations committed by commuter vans, the current number of vans and drivers, the number of illegal vans, and the process of how commuter van routes are suggested, among other requirements.

It will also include a recommendation on whether the cap on commuter van licenses should be raised above 735.

The Department of Transportation welcomed the reforms as a way to balance street safety and commuter convenience.

“New Yorkers want more choices in their commutes and these vans provide a vital service,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “By streamlining application and oversight, these new laws will together help foster greater accountability and reduce the number of unauthorized vans.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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