FOIL request uncovers shocking reality
C.O.M.E.T. President Roe Daraio and members of the group are livid over the inaction of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) to crack down on the unauthorized commuter van activity in Maspeth, South Elmhurst and Woodside. Daraio stated, “The lack of enforcement by TLC in our area is basically giving the green light to commuter van companies to operate outside of their authorized zones.”
Every day commuter vans prowl residential streets, pick up passengers along bus routes (currently prohibited under TLC regulations) and block intersections and residents’ driveways. According to Daraio, numerous requests to the agency to enforce their regulations have fallen upon deaf ears. She said the local precincts are sympathetic to the problem but are not trained to write many of the summonses necessary to curtail the activity. Since crime is up and the officers are needed for patrol, it is unlikely that they will be trained in the near future. What many folks find interesting is that the City has no problem summonsing a motorist who is parked at an expired parking meter, is double-parked or is dropping someone off at a bus stop, but does no enforcement of commuter van companies blatantly disobeying regulations. A crackdown would likely collect tens of thousands of dollars in revenue that the City could use during this budget crisis, not to mention improve the quality of life of the people living in neighborhoods plagued by illegally operating commuter vans.
In April 2009, C.O.M.E.T. met with TLC Commissioner Matthew Daus to discuss the lack of enforcement of commuter van regulations. Issues brought up included: companies discriminating as to whom is picked up, the lack of information about routes and destinations, why a particular route was approved or even phone numbers to contact companies to schedule rides. The meeting resulted in a few summonses being written but with no follow up. To obtain the route information, C.O.M.E.T. was told they needed to make a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request, and at the time of the meeting TLC claimed they didn’t even know where the authorized routes were in the area. Other complaints about the commuter vans - including reporting a licensed van that did not have any name or markings on it - went unaddressed and the activity continues today.
After FOILing the commuter van routes, C.O.M.E.T. made a startling discovery: only one commuter van company is authorized in the Community Board 4 area and that route does not encompass Elmhurst south of Queens Boulevard and does not extend into Woodside or Maspeth. That means every single commuter van operating in these areas is doing so illegally.
Daraio said, “Apparently rules were not made for everyone and the City is just allowing these companies to get away with their illegal practices with no enforcement. Instead of collecting revenue by summonsing rogue companies, it’s probably easier to just raise residents’ taxes.”