• September 19, 2019
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Queens Chronicle

TLC ends advertising on for-hire vehicles

Court backs agency; drivers fear losing revenue in a tough economy

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Posted: Thursday, August 29, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:29 pm, Thu Sep 5, 2019.

Facing a legal challenge earlier this year, the Taxi and Limousine Commission suspended its longstanding rules against for-hire vehicles sporting advertising either inside or out.

But with the court recently finding in the TLC’s favor, the 70 drivers who had permits for the advertising have until Aug. 31 to remove it; and others hopeful of getting approval themselves now apparently will not get the opportunity.

“I took mine down yesterday,” said Mohsin Ali of Queens in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “It is going to affect me. I’ll have longer hours. My check is getting smaller. That is money I use to pay my bills and my TLC insurance.”

Ali owns his car, and, unlike drivers who lease vehicles, the money from advertising went directly into his pocket.

The ban does not affect yellow or green taxis, and never has. It does apply to ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft.

“The TLC had always prohibited advertising in for-hire vehicles, and this was upheld in a federal court decision last month,” TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said in an email to the Chronicle. “We’ve seen no evidence of drivers benefitting from advertising, and only 70 out of 120,000 for-hire vehicles have permits for exterior ads.”

The 70 permits were issued in February, though the TLC said all drivers knew in advance that they were possibly temporary.

The agency also pointed out that the city and state have also taken steps recently to rein in advertising in the public sphere, such as unauthorized billboards and floating billboards.

“Billboards on the roofs of 120,000 for-hire vehicles would negatively impact the city landscape in a dramatic way,” he wrote.

Supporters of the TLC decision also have argued that advertising on 13,000 taxis is a far cry from the saturation that would take place with the owners of about 120,000 for-hire vehicles angling for ad revenues.

Supporters also point out that the TLC has taken actions in the past year to assist struggling FHV drivers, including the first-ever earnings protection initiative through which sources say drivers have earned an additional $225 million since it was established earlier this year.

But Brendan Sexton, executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild, wasn’t impressed in an interview on Tuesday.

His organization represents 85,000 FHV drivers, and he said limiting potential sources of driver income is the last thing that is needed under current conditions.

“Drivers are still struggling to get by, some still making less than minimum wage,” he said. “This seems punitive.”

The IDG also took issue with the suggestion that the advertising does not help the drivers by pointing out that it could mean up to $4,000 a year in extra income; and that there was waiting list of about 1,000 drivers who were hoping to secure permits.

Sexton pointed out that the extra income would allow owner drivers to work shorter shifts, spend less time on the road and more time with their families.

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