Testimony by Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager, Transportation Alternatives
Monday, September 26th, 2016
*** SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT***
Thank you for convening this hearing. I am Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager of Transportation Alternatives. We are a 43-year old non-profit with more than 150,000 activists in our network, dedicated to promote biking, walking, and public transportation as alternatives to cars in New York City. We advocate on behalf of New York City’s pedestrians and cyclists for safer, better, more livable streets.
We support these three bills to strengthen licensing requirements, require greater monitoring by the Department of Consumer Affairs, and limit the number of sightseeing buses. While tourism is one of New York City’s economic engines and we are proud to welcome the world, the last thing we want is for any visitor or resident to lose their life or be injured due to preventable factors. While fortunately there have been no sightseeing bus fatalities in recent years, 13 people were injured when a double-decker bus driver slammed into a tree and jumped the sidewalk on E. 63rd St & Fifth Avenue this summer, and 14 were injured two years ago when two of these buses, one of them driven by an impaired operator, collided in Times Square. We have been in contact with a man who survived – albeit with severe injuries - being run over by the driver of a double-decker sightseeing bus in Greenwich Village last year. His life has been permanently impacted by the actions of this driver. There is a clear public safety need for greater regulation of sightseeing buses in New York City.
We believe that all commercial drivers should be held to the highest standard of operation. Unfortunately, due to loopholes and lack of requirements to report crash data, consumers cannot presently make intelligent decisions about their sightseeing bus drivers. In addition, the number of sightseeing buses has greatly increased in recent years, contributing to road congestion in the Manhattan Central Business District. We support limitations on the number of sightseeing bus licenses issued by the City – one that is based upon current market conditions and congestion considerations.
Intro 529-A includes common sense provisions: a driver of a double-decker sightseeing bus should not have received two or more suspensions or revocations within the last five years, nor should they have been convicted of alcohol or drug-related driving offenses. The 12-hour daily limit on driving hours is in line with the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s new evidence-based regulations, though we suggest adding the TLC’s weekly 72-hour limit to the bill as well. Most importantly, Intro 529-A requires crash reporting, which sightseeing bus companies previously did not have to provide to the Department of Consumer Affairs. This bill therefore rectifies a long-standing problem. However, we would like you to go further, because data is of no use to the public unless it can be easily accessed. Passengers have a right to know the safety record of the company they are trusting with their lives. We suggest that the Department of Consumer Affairs makes crash data for sightseeing tour bus companies publicly available via website, and requires that operators clearly post how passengers can obtain this information. In light of state inaction to close the loophole that currently exempts sightseeing bus operators from the requirements of obtaining “Operating Authority” as stipulated in Article 19-A of the Vehicle and Traffic Law, this bill is an important, necessary, and proactive step towards greater safety.
Our one objection to Intro 529-A is with regard to subsection 6c of new subchapter 20-376.2: the requirement to report within five days as to “whether or not the sight-seeing bus driver was at fault.” While we support rapid reporting of a crash, and driver responsibility being noted when applicable, we are concerned that requiring fault to be officially determined within five days of a crash may be too soon for a thorough investigation to conclude. It is more important that responsibility be noted accurately rather than quickly. We are concerned that, if time pressure is looming, the individuals responsible for reporting may jump to conclusions rather than wait for the results of an investigation - potentially prematurely clearing a driver of responsibility in order to file the report before the deadline. We suggest that reporting be required within five days as presently stipulated, but for a longer period of time to determine responsibility for the crash.
Thank you for your time and consideration.