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May 15, 2012 By Steven Greer, MD
Due to policy decisions at City Hall beyond the scope if this report that freed up town car and SUV livery cabs to solicit cash fares more like a yellow cab, the streets of Manhattan have become invaded by a wide range illegal livery cabs doing bad things. Many of the drivers have no license with the TLC at all, and some are now out of state regular vehicles that do not resemble a town car or taxi. Passengers using the illegal cabs are often hustled for more money at the destination, or abandoned by the drivers once they pay up front large fees to tour the city. Many drivers are willing to go to Rikers Island prison over and over in a revolving door because judges have been lenient on them. Moreover, less serious concerns arise when the drivers loiter on residential streets waiting for fairs, and urinate on the street or litter the street with cups and containers.
A parallel problem has arisen in Battery Park City caused by large tour buses parking on the streets illegally, often running their diesel engines as they idle. Those buses are supposed to park across the West Side Highway in designated spots set up by the 9/11 memorial.
With demand for the livery cabs from employees of the corporations on Vesey St, that street had become a parking lot during rush hours. Dozens of livery cab driver would park in the middle of the street, to maximize attention, then exit their cars and illegally solicit passengers. To make matters worse, the authorized and legal town cars waiting for passengers coming from offices in WFC building 1 were backing up into the residential streets of South End Avenue, and the side streets such as Rector Place. Brookfield Properties, owner of the WFC, has no designated town car waiting spot.
All of the aforementioned problems were going unchecked by the authorities. The building security for some of the banks on Vesey were also doing nothing about this problem.
BatteryPark.TV first began filming the problem in February. We were then able to obtain the proper attention from the Deputy Commissioner of the TLC, Ray Scanlon, who began undercover sting operations on North End Avenue, ticketing, and even arresting, numerous livery cabs in front of the Conrad Hotel. But that alone did not solve the problem. The drivers are tenacious and desperate.
BP.TV also began working with Goldman Sachs and American Express security, and cautioned the compliance departments of the banks about the legal liability, and media relation nightmares waiting to happen, if their employees were to use the illegal cash cars and then get into some sort of dispute. (A senior Morgan Stanley executive was in the news for allegedly “stabbing” a livery cab driver at his destination in Connecticut, when in fact the driver was hustling him.). Those banks began to assist the growing community collaboration to eradicate illegal livery cabs from BPC.
One of the most diligent corporations to help out has been the new Conrad Hotel. Their doormen have done a superb job at calling the TLC, police, and tow trucks. In the beginning, they faced resistance. One driver threatened a Conrad Hotel doorman with a screwdriver. The doorman called the NYPD who promptly arrested the driver.
The BPC parks Park Enforcement Patrol (PEP) have also gotten in on the act. They began issuing tickets first to the tour buses, then the livery cabs. Linda Belfer of the Community Board 1 helped with that last Fall at the BPC block party.
As a result of this remarkable community collaborative effort involving city agencies, corporations, private residents of BPC, and BatteryPark.TV, one can now enjoy fine dining at North End Grill and look out through the large ground floor windows and see a peaceful street. Likewise, residents in the new luxury towers, such as 2 River Terrace, no longer see lines of ugly tour buses. One would never guess that the Northern half of BPC is actually within Manhattan where the hyper-aggressive illegal town cars are still a problem elsewhere.
In the Southern half of BPC, the town cars have been harder to get under control. To address the backed up cars waiting for law firm employees in WFC 1, BatteryPark.TV called the senior partner of the law firm that hires the car service, Cadwalader, Wickersham, &Taft LLP, and the law firm promptly instructed the service to not allow their cars to loiter on the residential streets. That took care a large chunk of the problem, but individual drivers continued to use the streets as a garage.
The freelancing rogue independent drivers were still loitering on South End Avenue and the side streets. At times, the Rector Place loop world have up to ten livery town cars parked, killing time, sleeping in reclined seats, taking away parking spots from residents, etc. To address this problem, BP.TV began filming and reporting the cars to the TLC, taking the risk of personal injury. So many reports were filed that our Whac-A-Mole series was created.
The local PEPs were at first reluctant to act on the lone independent drivers. The responses widely varied depending on the personnel. The PEP are now fairly consistently responsive when called. They have fast electric carts and can arrive within minutes. However, the residents of BPC still needed to become more involved in reporting the cars to the PEP.
The building managers in the area were also reluctant to instruct their doormen to call the PEP. Historically, calling the PEP had been a futile exercise. But after many meetings with BatteryPark.TV, Milford Management joined the community collaboration. The doormen now notify the PEP for other issues near the buildings as well, such as teenagers smoking pot in the parks, etc.
As of now, the problem of tour buses and illegal livery cabs congesting and polluting our streets is fairly under control, but the constant pressure is still required. The driver’s are desperate in this economic depression and are willing to risk tickets and arrests if they sense that the community has relented. If you see problems near your residential or office building, please call your management offices or call the PEP.
The PEP number is (212) 417-3114