July 13, 2016
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Advocates hoping to strengthen New York City’s private commuter van industry through new legislation are charging that Johnny-come-lately services like Uber and Lyft have been granted favored status while mostly minority-operated “dollar van” lines that have consistently filled gaps in the town’s transit system must continue to fight for respect.
“No doubt about it,” Council Member Jumaane Williams [D-45th District] told LaborPress on Tuesday. “Apps like Uber and Lyft have been shown a lot of favoritism in terms of being accepted into the fabric [of this city] when this group of MWBE employers have not. And we need to even that out.”
The Brooklyn legislator, who also serves as chair of the Committee on Housing and Buildings, is spearheading a package of four new bills aimed at strengthening licensed commuter van lines throughout the city, while also penalizing un-licensed rogue operators.
“This is the only part of the industry that fits under the M/WBE monicker,” Council Member Williams said. “And these are the folks that have caught the raw end of the deal, although these are the folks we’ve come to time and time again in an emergency.”
M/WBE businesses are those enterprises that are at least 51 percent owned, controlled and operated by members of a designated minority group — which include all women and people who identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian Pacific or Asian-Indian.
The stated goal of the City of New York’s Minority and Women-owned Business Certification Program is to promote fairness and equity in city procurement processes by providing services designed to strengthen the ability of certified M/WBEs to increase their capacity and effectively contribute to the City's economy.
In years past — due to sever weather or some other calamity — private commuter vans have often served as the only means of mass transportation for commuters who would otherwise have had no other way of getting around.
“In the midst of a blizzard, I remember Mayor Bloomberg saying we need the dollar vans,” Council Member Donovan Richards [D-31st District] said on Tuesday. “Don’t treat them like a stepchild today and then call on them when there’s some sort of emergency.”
While app-based ride-sharing giants like Uber and Lyft have virtually been given carde blanche to operate in the City of New York — efforts to institute a moratorium on new drivers while a study into Uber’s affect on city streets could be conducted quickly stalled last year — commuter van operators say they have been relegated to an “underground economy.”
“Others have come and have been treated better,” said Hector Ricketts, head of the Commuter Van Association of New York. “There is an app right now and you can get picked up in your bedroom. [But] there are people who stand on the corner every day for 10 years who can’t be picked up without a commuter van.”
The de Blasio administration’s goal is to award $16 billion in M/WBE contracts by 2025.
“New platforms that have never existed before are treated better than the folks behind me who have been helping the city move for many years,” Council Member Williams said. “They are part of the transportation of this city. They are part of the fabric of what moves this city around. Without them, there would be people stuck. And the city knows that.”