If you’re a taxi, livery cab or commuter van driver licensed by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and you’re charged with breaking the rules, and if you want to contest that charge, you have to go to a hearing in a place like 32-02 Queens Boulevard. One of the first things you notice –- one of the first things I noticed, anyway –- is that the building, a big former factory, is pink.

It’s an odd touch next to the elevated No. 7 train, and felt incongruously festive considering the nonsmiles on the faces of the security guards working the metal detectors. Inside, the hearing rooms are on the third floor, past signs warning that bribery is illegal and that you have to be in your hearing room when the presiding administrative law judge calls your case, or they’ll conduct an inquest without you.

I was there this week working on a piece in the City Section about some proposed changes to the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s tribunal process. When the changes were discussed in front of the City Council’s Transportation Committee late last month, the agency’s chairman, Matthew W. Daus, invited council members to stop by anytime [pdf], noting that the tribunals’ proceedings are open to the public.

They are -– though it hasn’t always been that way.

A judge ordered the proceedings opened in 2000, in response to a lawsuit from a lawyer and journalism school student named Daniel Ackman, who was writing about the tribunals for his master’s project. (I’m being careful not to use the word “courts” here, by the way, because they are administrative proceedings, operating under their own particular rules, and are not a part of the judicial system.)

When I visited, I got the feeling that, while visitors are permitted, they aren’t exactly an everyday fixture. With that in mind, here is a bit longer look at what anyone –- a taxi driver contesting a ticket, or an adjudication junkie just looking to peek in –- would encounter there.

Just inside the door of the waiting room is a cork board where the names of everyone scheduled to appear that day are posted. If you’re due for a hearing, you find your name and schedule, and you sit down and wait. The waiting room, with rows of chairs facing windows that separate the area from the area where T.L.C. workers handle paperwork, has a little glass pen in one corner where defense lawyers set up shop.

There is a lawyer there from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance who represents members of the union, and others, who work on their own, pick up clients as they come in. Drivers are busy, one lawyer told me, and don’t have a lot of time for planning out their cases in advance. Many wind up sitting in the area conferring with the lawyers, who can also help with filling out paperwork or dashing off a letter -– for a fee, of course.

The hearing rooms are down a narrow hallway, past more security guards. Anyone can open a door and take a seat in the back of a hearing, but people do tend to notice an unfamiliar face, and when they asked who I was, I told them I was a reporter. After that, a guard was usually nearby. They were all very nice and nobody kept me out of anyplace public, but, everyone there –- including the judges and lawyers –- very quickly became aware that they had a visitor.

Watching any hearing involved a lot of quizzical looks toward my back corner of the room from everyone involved, and considering some of the complaints from drivers and their advocates about the tribunals, I couldn’t help but remember that old maxim about how the act of observing alters what is being observed.

As for the hearings: They take place in plain beige rooms with utilitarian furniture and the occasional missing wall fixtures. Generally, the judge turns on a tape recorder and lets the T.L.C. inspector who wrote the summons lay out the case against the driver, whose lawyer then has a chance at cross-examination. The driver can testify, and the judge asks questions, too. When the hearing is over (usually only a few minutes, from what I saw), everyone leaves and the judge types up a decision, which is delivered to the driver back out in the waiting room.

It sounds simple enough, but sometimes the devil is in the details. Several of the drivers I spoke with complained about long delays, and that is one issue the Transportation Committee’s chairman, Councilman John C. Liu, said has to be improved.

“Time is money, literally by the minute, for these drivers,” he said on Thursday. “So every time delay is not only going to be frustrating, but will represent real economic loss to the drivers and their families.”

Beyond that, there is the fact that many cabdrivers, as anyone who has been in a taxi knows, speak a first language other than English. Mr. Liu said Mr. Daus deserves credit for streamlining the tribunal process in recent years, but he added: “On paper and by verbal description, the process seems very smooth. But speaking with drivers and constituents who may not speak English perfectly, it is entirely maddening to go through.”

Mr. Liu said it is unclear what the Council might do to help the situation, but that it will do something.

Ira J. Goldstein, the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s chief of staff, said this morning that there were 102,197 hearings in the past 12 months, and that the conviction rate in those proceedings was 59.7 percent.

About the wait times for hearings, which were the main complaint of most of the drivers I talked with, Mr. Goldstein wrote this in an e-mail message:

Our waiting rooms are empty. The average wait is less than 15 minutes based on our surveys. Some people wait longer -– but most wait less than five minutes, it is a walk-in system in the hearing rooms. Usually, drivers are waiting for their lawyer which is not due to the T.L.C.’s administrative process.

Category: Blog, New York City

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