TLC Still Has No Plan to Require NYC Road Tests for Taxi and Livery Drivers

The Taxi and Limousine Commission will close a loophole that allows livery drivers to operate with less training than yellow cab drivers, but the agency still has no plans to require road tests on actual New York City streets for any of the drivers it licenses.

The TLC has the power to license and train tens of thousands of professional drivers who set the tone on city streets: There are more than 40,000 licensed yellow taxi drivers and more than 70,000 people licensed to drive livery cabs, black cars, and limousines in New York City. But only yellow cab drivers have to pass the TLC exam before they can operate on NYC streets.

The TLC’s training double standard is now set to come to an end, requiring all for-hire drivers to pass the same test. Advocates applauded the move at a hearing today and pushed for additional steps, but TLC chief Meera Joshi still wouldn’t commit to requiring cabbies and livery drivers to take road tests in New York City to obtain a license. The current rule allows for-hire drivers to operate in NYC even if they took a road test elsewhere in the state.

“In the age of Vision Zero, improving education and certification standards for TLC-licensed drivers should be a no-brainer,” Michael O’Loughlin, campaign organizer for Cab Riders United, told commissioners. “All New Yorkers deserve the same standards of safety [from drivers]… no matter what color car they drive, no matter what neighborhood they serve.”

Under the proposed changes, TLC’s “taxi school” curriculum, which includes classroom time and a written exam, will be extended to anyone looking to get a TLC license, not just yellow and green cab drivers. The expanded taxi school would not, however, include an on-road test.

Drivers seeking a TLC license must already have a for-hire license from the state DMV, which requires an initial on-road test. But TLC does not have any control over the quality of the state’s training, and the state DMV test can be administered on streets that differ enormously from the crowded, complex conditions in New York City.

“I’m stunned to see that the new proposed rules will still not require drivers to take a taxi-specific road test,” said Dana Lerner, whose 9-year-old son Cooper Stock was killed by a taxi driver last January. At the end of her testimony, Lerner turned to TLC Chair Meera Joshi. “Could you respond to why there is not a test with cab drivers in New York City, why you can go and get a license in upstate New York and then just drive in New York City without ever having driven in the city before?”

“It’s not part of our current curriculum,” Joshi replied. “There’s several suggestions that have come through the Vision Zero task force as to how to improve the safety components of our curriculum, some of which we’re working on, some of which have some practical obstacles, too. It’s something we’re going look into, but it’s not part of our current curriculum.”

The rule change up for consideration today would also add more training requirements for TLC drivers to renew their licenses. Currently, taxi drivers have to take a refresher course to keep their license after the first year of driving. Other than that, taxi and livery drivers are only required to take a six-hour defensive driving course every three years. These courses, approved by the DMV, are the same classes open to anyone interested in getting a discount on car insurance and don’t have instruction specific to for-hire drivers. In other words, there’s no venue for TLC to verify that its drivers are getting ongoing training that meets the agency’s own standards.

“We urge you to require an industry-specific taxi and for-hire driver defensive driving course, not a generic off-the-shelf course,” O’Loughlin told the commission.

One component of the rule change would partially address this concern. Today, only drivers with violations are required to take TLC-approved remedial courses. The rule change would require all drivers to take these TLC-approved refresher courses before renewing their licenses every two years, in addition to attending the generic DMV defensive driving course every three years.

The changes spring from the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero Action Plan [PDF], which tasked TLC with implementing “more comprehensive, taxi-specific, driving curriculum for initial licensees… and continued driver safety education.”

The rule change would also expand wheelchair training requirements for TLC drivers. While it wasn’t on the agenda today, the commission is exploring the possibility of consolidating its driver education offerings with a sole provider, rather than approving multiple different companies to run classes. This idea, while not yet a formal proposal, received significant opposition at today’s hearing from companies that currently offer TLC driver education, as well as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance union.