Testimony before the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations
Testimony by: Marco Conner, Legislative & Legal Director, Transportation Alternatives
Chairman Cabrera and Committee members, thank you for the opportunity to testify. For 45 years, Transportation Alternatives has advocated on behalf of New Yorkers for safer and more livable streets. With more than 150,000 people in our network and over 1,000 activists throughout all five boroughs, we fight to promote biking, walking, and public transportation as alternatives to the car.
In the interest of justice and for the safety of all New Yorkers we implore that you do not further authorize OATH to reduce safety-based penalties issued by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), particularly when such penalties are related to dangerous driving.
We are highly sympathetic to the challenging work environments and economic situations that many taxi drivers and for-hire vehicle (FHV) drivers confront as they seek economic opportunity for themselves and their families. Drivers deserve a living wage and there are many steps that could and arguably should be taken, including raising fare rates, further regulating the app-based for-hire vehicles that have started operating in recent years, and implementing an escalating fine schedule. But sacrificing safety, and the deterrence that comes from dangerous driving penalties, cannot be an option.
Despite recent reductions in traffic fatalities, New Yorkers are still killed at tragic rates and are exposed to unacceptable dangers when simply walking, biking or driving - dangers that result from speeding, failing to yield to pedestrians, and distracted driving. In 2017, drivers licensed by the TLC were involved in at least 30 fatal crashes, an increase of approximately five deaths from 2016. None of these drivers lost their TLC license in 2017. Citywide, 214 people died in 2017, and since 2001 more than 5,000 people have died in traffic crashes in New York City, with more than 60,000 people injured every year. Dangerous driver choices are the primary cause or a contributing factor in 70% of pedestrian fatalities. People of color and low-income New Yorkers are up to three times more likely to be struck and injured by motor vehicles, and as such stand to gain the most from effective traffic enforcement by the TLC.
In addition to the personal agony suffered by thousands of families, every injury and death results in significant economic costs for the traffic victims and their families. We estimate that the average injury crash costs each victim more than $9,000 in medical expenses and lost wages alone - costs that are multiplied exponentially for serious and fatal crashes.
Addressing this epidemic of carnage and suffering is a responsibility shared by all. Professional drivers, particularly taxi and FHV drivers, have the greatest responsibility: They spend more time in traffic and through their driving lead the way for either more reckless or safer driving by all New Yorkers. The responsibility professional drivers have for the safety of others can not be overestimated. Professional drivers receive special training because they are operating a lethal multi-ton vehicle. The primary purpose of the TLC must be to ensure drivers operate with the highest level of diligence and comply with laws meant to protect us all.
Deterrence research shows that effective enforcement against dangerous driving must be visible, widespread and consistently applied. Additionally, drivers must know that apprehension and legal consequences for dangerous driving is likely.
Two provisions in Intro 748 are particularly troublesome. Subsections 1. and 2. of Section 19-903 would allow OATH to consider the “seriousness and circumstances” and the “extent of harm” caused by the violation in question. Speeding and failing to yield to a pedestrian are serious offenses by professional drivers in particular, and even if the first such violation by that driver causes no immediate “harm”, the next offense could cause a lost life, and so the deterrence sought from the TLC-issued penalty may occur too late if the proposed provisions are enacted.
Professional drivers have the highest responsibility to operate lethal vehicles on crowded city streets with the utmost care for the safety of us all. TLC enforcement plays a critical role in this effort, and we urge this committee to ensure that the important work by the TLC to protect New Yorkers are not diminished in your laudable and important quest for justice.