The Newtown Pentacle

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Taxi town

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- photo by Mitch Waxman

When the intrepid shutterbug wanders around the back streets and hidden lanes of Long Island City (in particular) and North Western Queens (in general), the sheer number of Taxis observed is astounding. In the post WW2 period many, many Taxi garages and dispatchers relocated their fleet garages (mainly from the west side of Manhattan, whose rising real estate valuations priced such large footprint business out of the borough) in the area due to its proximity to Manhattan and the easy (free) egress offered to the business districts of the shining City by the Queensboro Bridge. Also, the land was cheap, by New York standards.

note:

The inexpensive nature of the land in Long Island City during the last half of the 20th century presents an inexplicable paradox given the paradise that LIC – south of the bridge- is reported to have been during the 1970’s and 80’s by comment threads at LIQCity.

I just can’t let this one go, by the way. A general excoriation of this blog and me personally has been detailed in the comment thread there by a few dedicated trolls who have focused on half a sentence in a 1,000 word post that was part of a 3,000 word sum up editorial at the end of the year.

When confronted to back up a statement, I supplied primary source material and was then told “don’t believe what you read”. So far, they’ve made intonations and accusations about my sexual preferences, called me amateur, lazy, gullible, self promoting, on drugs, like a spoiled 2 year old, an untalented liar, having written a “disgraceful and distasteful article complete with racist undertones”, making false claims about having lived in NYC all my life, and one anonymous poster has suggested “Think about it. A few years ago it was an Italian neighborhood. It’s okay to use that locution, right? Well, not for nothin’, but only idiots would try to get away with anything around here”. To my ears, that is the epitome of racist undertone- suggesting that stereotypical organized crime elements kept LIC safe and are exactly the sort of thing that they are all so upset about. I respond here, as comments at Newtown Pentacle are moderated and require you to sign your name, and I don’t participate in acrimonious flame wars.

Notice that at no point do they supply anything besides anonymous anecdotes in argument. The difference between these “anon” posters and myself is that I sign my name to things that I write, and can back up what I say. I fully expect to be connected to global terror and accused of being a sexual predator before the weekend is over. Also, the notion that I would use the tragic death of a car service driver to “promote myself” is anathema and personally offensive. I take my battles outside, to the street, where it counts. Coward.

from nyc.gov

What is the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission?

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), created in 1971, is the agency responsible for licensing and regulating New York City’s medallion (yellow) taxicabs, for-hire vehicles (community-based liveries and black cars), commuter vans, paratransit vehicles (ambulettes) and certain luxury limousines. The Commission’s Board consists of nine members, eight of whom are unsalaried Commissioners. The salaried Chair/Commissioner presides over regularly scheduled public Commission meetings, and is the head of the agency, which maintains a staff of approximately 400 TLC employees assigned to various divisions and bureaus. The Hon. Matthew W. Daus was named as Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s designee to the Chair of the TLC in June 2001 and was unanimously confirmed by the New York City Council on August 22, 2001. He was then reappointed by Mayor Bloomberg in July 2003 and was again unanimously confirmed by the New York City Council on July 23, 2003.

The TLC licenses and regulates over 50,000 vehicles and approximately 100,000 drivers, performs safety and emissions inspections of the more than 13,000 medallion taxicabs three times each year, and holds numerous hearings for violations of City and TLC rules and regulations, making it the most active taxi and limousine licensing regulatory agency in the United States.To find out more about the TLC, or to review the agency’s procedures, rules and regulations and programs, you may review the constantly updated information available throughout this web site, or you may call the TLC’s Customer Service Hotline at 311.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Omnipresent, the New York City Yellow cab is available for hire and will take you just about anywhere. A point is made, by your humble narrator, to converse with Cab drivers. Often, the conversation will involve their native country – which is what I’m really interested in- or their “immigrant story”. Eye opening, some of the stories I’ve been told about life in the far and middle east have changed my perceptions and corrected certain misconceptions acquired through ignorance and cultural prejudices. Ultimately, the one thing all cab drivers seem to have in common is a shared hatred of the Van Wyck.

from nyc.gov

The Following Vehicles are Currently in Use as New York City Taxicabs

  • 2009-Ford Crown Victoria Stretch
  • 2009-Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
  • 2009-Saturn Aura Hybrid
  • 2009-Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
  • 2009-Volkswagen Jetta Clean Diesel Sedan
  • 2009-Lexus RX400h
  • 2009-Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • 2009-Toyota Prius-48 mpg city
  • 2009-Toyota Highlander Hybrid (4WD)
  • 2009-Saturn Vue Greenline
  • 2009-Nissan Altima Hybrid
  • 2009-Ford Escape Hybrid (2WD)
  • 2009-Mercury Mariner Hybrid (AWD)
  • 2010-Ford Crown Victoria Stretch
  • 2010-Volkswagen Jetta Clean Diesel Sedan
  • 2010-Lexus RX450h
  • 2010-Lexus HS250h
  • 2010-Toyota Camry Hybrid
  • 2010-Toyota Prius-48 mpg city
  • 2010-Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • 2010-Nissan Altima Hybrid
  • 2010-Ford Escape Hybrid (2WD)
  • 2010-Ford Fusion Hybrid
  • 2010-Mercury Milan Hybrid
  • 2010-Mercury Mariner Hybrid (AWD)

The following are the approved for use as Wheelchair Accessible Taxicabs:

  • 2007-Eclipse Mobility Dodge Caravan
  • 2007-Eldorado National Mobility Chevrolet Uplander
  • 2007-2008 Autovan Toyota Sienna
  • 2007-2008 Freedom Motors Toyota Sienna Kneelvan
  • 2008-2009 Freedom Motors Toyota Sienna Kneelvan

Additional vehicle models come on the market from time to time that may comply with TLC rules.  Any questions about a vehicle model not listed above, or about any vehicle retirement issue, should be referred to TLC hack site at (718) 267-4501.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Because of the presence of the fleet garages, one will observe hundreds of smashed and destroyed vehicles which have been towed home for repair. Self employed on the whole, the shift drivers of New York’s Taxi fleets must maintain and pay for their own health insurance. When they are sick or injured and can’t work, they don’t get paid. I’ve often wondered why the city doesn’t offer a buy-in to the generous and inexpensive (due to the size of “the plan”) health insurance plan enjoyed by other employees of the City, to help these defacto city workers afford coverage. During the transit strike a few years ago, the municipality depended heavily on these folks, it would only be fair to thank them somehow. Taxi drivers, however, are a maligned and oft abused group.

from yellowcabnyc.com

For the city’s cabbies, the quest for a bathroom is no potty joke.

Finding bladder relief is a daily dilemma for the city’s 44,000 cabbies, who typically work 12 hour shifts and cruise miles away from their garages. And the hunt for a toilet is getting harder as new bike lanes and MUNI meters make it harder to jump out without getting ticketed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman (note: this was a film shoot in progress, down in LIC)

Cab drivers are victimized by anybody who feels like it. During the last quarter of the 20th century, it became an increasingly dangerous job. Casual racism and derogatory comments are suffered by drivers, as well as robbery and theft of services. Drivers often say that the reason they don’t want to go to some outlying area of the city is fear of the passenger exiting the vehicle with the meter still running. Also, as a cab at the middle and end of its shift is carrying a decent amount of cash, they are prime targets for robbery. The city also preys upon the yellow cabs, with NYPD ticket blitz tactics and an ever shifting mosaic of rules and regulations.

from nyc.gov

Are drivers required to know how to get to any destination in New York City?

Drivers are required to know the streets of Manhattan as well as major destinations in the other boroughs.  Additionally, all New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission licensed taxi drivers must have a map available to them when on duty.  If they do not, they are in violation of TLC rules and regulations.  In addition, as per TLC rules, they are required to know the “lay of the land”, that is, have extensive knowledge of the NYC area.  Taxi drivers are not permitted to refuse service, because they do not know how to reach a destination.  They must consult their 5-borough map to identify the best route to any destination within the 5 boroughs.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Like all New Yorkers, I count on yellow cabs being available as soon as I step off the curb and stick my hand out. A preference for mass transit is enjoyed here at Newtown Pentacle HQ, but every now and then when time is short and the vagaries of the MTA cannot be counted on, a Taxi is the way to go. As mentioned above, I make it a point to chat with willing drivers, and have learned many interesting things about the modern taxi industry, which contrasts with the experiences of an uncle who owned and drove a Checker cab in NYC for 30 years (retiring in the mid 70’s). Once, a modern driver shared his “drivers manual” with me, which was fascinating.

from wikipedia

The first taxicab company in New York was the New York Taxicab Company, which in 1907 imported 600 gasoline-powered cars from France. The cars were painted red and green. Within a decade several more companies opened business and taxicabs began to proliferate. The fare was 50 cents a mile, a rate only affordable to the relatively wealthy. Previous taxis, including the one that killed Henry Bliss in 1899, were electric.

By the 1920s, industrialists recognized the potential of the taxicab market. Automobile manufacturers like General Motors and the Ford Motor Company began operating fleets. The most successful manufacturer, however, was the Checkered Cab Manufacturing Company. Founded by Morris Markin, Checker Cabs produced the large yellow and black taxis that became one of the most recognizable symbols of mid-20th century urban life. For many years Checker cabs were the most popular taxis in New York City.

from another 22nd street

- photo by Mitch Waxman

The drivers manual, and this was back in the 1990’s so it’s a bit of a hazy memory, had a table towards the back of the book which described flat fees and regulations for a New York City Taxi to charge when a passenger wants to go to a locale wildly outside of the NY area. At least back then, a cab (which had the right of refusal for such exo-destinations) could be hailed, and the driver told “I need to go to Kansas City”. The driver could only be expected to drive a certain number of hours per day, would have to provided with accommodations and meals, and would be expecting quite a bit more than the usual buck or two tip. A longtime fantasy of mine has been to take a trip to San Francisco in an NYC yellow cab with a documentary film crew- the fare of said trip, back in the ’90’s, would have been (as I said hazy memory, I might be flubbing this number) around $3,800 + fuel, hotels, meals, and tip.

from pubadvocate.nyc.gov

On-duty New York City taxis, or yellow cabs, must take passengers to any destination within the five boroughs, Westchester County, Nassau County and Newark Airport. Unless traffic is tied up or the passenger requests otherwise, the driver is required to take the shortest route. To complain about a cab or cabbie, or find out about lost items, call the Taxi and Limousine Commission. Because there are over 40,000 licensed taxi drivers and over 11,000 licensed taxi cabs, try to have the following information ready: the driver’s name and license number and the taxi medallion number. In addition to yellow cabs, for-hire vehicles (FHVs) carry passengers around town. FHVs, commonly used in all five boroughs, serve passengers by prior arrangement and cannot stop for a hailing customer. FHVs come in three styles and price ranges: car services, black cars, and limousines. The NYC diamond decal on the windshield of licensed FHVs distinguishes them from unlicensed gypsy cabs. Write to the Taxi and Limousine Commission at the above address with complaints about FHVs. Your letter should include the license plate number, the name of the dispatch company, the date and time of the incident, and a brief description of the incident. Allegations of overcharging will be addressed immediately, other complaints less rapidly, and incidents that involve the police will take longer.

Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm

Taxi and Limousine Commission
40 Rector Street, 5th Floor (212) NYC-TAXI (692-8294)

note: the above photo is “highly processed” and is a composited shot of something like six individual photos “photshopped” together. Just in the name of full disclosure, as I wouldn’t want to be accused of being a “liar” – photo by Mitch Waxman

from wikipedia

By the mid-1980s and into the 1990s the demographic changes among cabbies began to accelerate as new waves of immigrants arrived in New York. Today, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, of the 62,000 cabbies in New York 82 percent are foreign born: 23 percent are from the Caribbean (the Dominican Republic and Haiti), and 30 percent from South Asia (India, and Pakistan).

Some drivers became puzzled about why the TLC isn’t scrutinized for profiling the demographic make-up of cab permit holders, while drivers are scrutinized for superficial evaluation, mis-characterized as racism.

The production of the famous Checker Cab had stopped and although there were still many in operation, the Chevrolet Caprice and Ford Crown Victoria became the industry top choices. Large frame, rear-wheel drive, former police cruisers, available at auctions provide a steady supply of used, well-maintained cars for cab fleets nationwide.

The working conditions of cabbies have changed as crime in New York has plummeted, while the cost of medallions has increased. Fewer cabbies own their taxicabs than in previous times. The TLC bureaucracy involved makes single-cab and small-fleet operations less attractive.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

January 9, 2010 at 6:37 pm

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