Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cracking Down on Commuter Vans: Law Aims to Better Regulate Growing Industry

By Eric Yun

Many residents searching for transportation options in areas underserved by the MTA have found commuter vans ready to fill the void. Most of the vans, however, are run illegally.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) introduced legislation at last Thursday’s City Council meeting in an at- tempt to curb the illegal vans. The bill requires the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to train the NYPD on the laws about commuter vans and how to properly identify illegal vans. It will also create a “digest of laws” so police understand the licenses, signage, and other materials a licensed and legal commuter van must have.

With MTA service being cut throughout the city, commuter vans are becoming an important part of transportation services.

Mayor Bloomberg recently announced a pilot program that would allow commuter vans to operate on some of the bus routes that were discontinued by the MTA.

But in an overly entrepreneurial spirit, illegal van operators have overtaken the routes of licensed vans. There are approximately 300 legal vans that operate throughout the city. It is unknown how many hundreds operate illegally.

Crowley was joined by Council Members Karen Koslowitz and Dan Halloran at a press conference last Thursday to announce the news to the community. The event was held in Maspeth, which is one neighborhood that has been hit particularly hard by this issue.

“This is first and foremost a public safety issue,” said Crowley. “Illegal and unlicensed commuter vans are operating off the radar of the TLC and the NYPD; they’re not being inspected for safety and they’re not being held accountable. If illegal commuter vans want to continue to operate in this city, they have to abide by the law or else face the consequences. This new bill will strengthen the laws against illegal commuter vans and enforce licensed, regulated, accountable and safer van services.”

“Requiring the Taxi and Limousine Com- mission to train the NYPD to identify the difference between legal and illegal commuter vans is a common sense safety measure that I strongly support,” said Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), “Commuter vans provide a needed service and we in the council need to make sure that they are safe, legal, and reliable.”

There appears to be bipartisan support for Crowley’s legislation. Halloran (R-Whitestone) was at the press conference pledging his support. “We encourage competition but the competition has to be on a level playing field,” Halloran said.

Roe Daraio, president of Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together (COMET), said the legislation is a “good start” to curb the problem. She noted illegal vans were picking up passengers even as Crowley was holding the press conference. The civic group has long called for better enforcement of commuter vans, which are also a major problem in Elmhurst.

Daraio questioned the need for commuter vans at all in her neighborhood. “We don’t need them here,” she said. One of the biggest concerns for COMET members is reducing traffic in their already congested neighborhoods. “On Grand Avenue alone, there are 500 trucks,” Daraio said. “Getting rid of illegal vans will help alleviate some of the traffic problems.”

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