Two elected officials are hoping that unlicensed commuter vans will soon face steep penalties for operating illegally in city neighborhoods.
Councilmen I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman introduced on Thursday the Commuter Van Reform Act to City Council, two bills that will require the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) to collect data on these vans and raise fines for illegally operating vehicles.
“During a period where we are rightfully concerned with an oversaturation of vehicles and its impact on the environment and public safety, the Wild West commuter van industry has gone without oversight for too long,” Miller said in a press release. “This industry has been omitted from conversations despite often being unsafe, unregulated and inaccessible for many New Yorkers.”
Last week, the TLC announced that all legal operators of commuter vans, commonly called “dollar vans,” must display licensing decals on their vehicles. Currently, 344 vans and 301 drivers are legally allowed to operate in New York City.
This step is not enough, according to Miller and Lancman, who cited the increased number of shootings and car chases involving commuter vans, especially in southeast Queens, in the past 12 months.
After Community Board 12 sent a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) to request a moratorium on commuter van applications as “van owners and operators continue to violate traffic rules and regulations,” the City Council admitted in a March 2014 meeting that many vehicles unlicensed by DOT were operating in Queens and all across New York City.
Intro. No. 860 will require the TLC to annually collect data and perform a study on the state of both the legal and illegal van industry. A moratorium will be placed on new van licences until the first study is completed. The study will focus on vans operating in eastern Queens, central and south Brooklyn, and Chinatown in Manhattan.
Another bill, Intro. No. 861, will raise fines for illegally operating a commuter van to $3,000 for a first offense and $4,000 for a second offense and repeated offenses within two years. Now, illegally operating a van carries a $500 fine for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. All other violations carry a fine of $1,000 for a first offense and $2,500 for a second offense.
The package of bills has been referred to the Council’s Transportation Committee.