New York taxi regulator David Yassky was appointed after losing two political battles. Now the Yale-trained lawyer wants cabbies to upgrade their wardrobe.
Once a national icon of boldness and bravura, the New York City cab driver now chafes amid over-regulation, ever-present physical danger, and the indignity of being unable to take a bathroom break without risking a ticket.
Step by step, the encroaching city bureaucracy has turned these onetime entrepreneurs into vassals of larger businesses and the city Taxi and Limousine Commission. Let us count the indignities:
The TLC, which oversees New York’s yellow street cabs, as well as black limos, may institute a dress code for the drivers, typically known as hacks. Why? Just ask TLC Chairman David Yassky.
“Taxi drivers are ambassadors for the city, often the first person a visitor sees is a taxi driver,” the earnest, fresh-faced bureaucrat and former City Council member told the Associated Press. “We’re just trying to make sure taxi drivers think about the fact they represent the city,” Yassky, 46, explained.
It’s no surprise that the city’s hacks offend Yassky’s delicate sensibilities. It’s doubtful that the Princeton and Yale-educated Yassky—who lives in tony Brooklyn Heights and is married to the CFO of the Metropolitan Opera—has ever been behind the wheel of a cab for a nine-hour shift.
Yassky, a political flameout, found himself unemployed after losing a 2006 Congressional battle and a 2009 bid for the City Comptroller’s job. After that, it only made sense to put him in charge of the TLC.
If the city must impose a dress code on cab drivers, let’s hope that they get it right—a windbreaker, a cap, and an unlit cigar should do just fine.
Meanwhile, government rationing of taxicab licenses, or medallions, has driven the cost to as much as $600,000. During the Great Depression, cabs were generally operated by their owners. There were 30,000 on the city’s streets. The number has dropped to about 13,000 during the Great Recession. While about 30 percent of drivers still own their own car, that figure is the result of the rationing of specially priced licenses.
If the supply of cabs wasn’t manipulated by city officials, the medallion price surely would be lower—and a much higher percentage of drivers could afford to own a taxi of their own, thereby eliminating a corporate middleman and boosting income.
Yet cab drivers have more pressing matters to consider. While the city provides 62 “relief stands” for drivers, only a few have a bathroom. Unless they happen to be in the vicinity of the peerless and civic-minded J&R Computer or another friendly establishment, they need to hold it in or resort to the notorious “hand bottle,” also known as the “motormen’s helper.” They risk a ticket if they double park or even bigger summonses if they use a playground bathroom, which is meant only for children and accompanying adults.
“Relief taxi stand. This means relief only for the car, not for the person,” cabbie Mohan Singh told the blog YellowCabNYC.
The city also plans to ban the use of cell phones and other electronic devices by drivers who are in motion, even if they use a headset. They will, however, be required to equip vehicles with expensive entertainment and electronic-payment systems for the convenience of customers.
Crime against cabbies and limo drivers is a constant worry. And while the TLC wages its elitist war on drivers, a company called Security USA is stepping into the breech by handing out bulletproof vests to the supervulnerable limo drivers who work tougher neighborhoods outside of Manhattan, where the yellow cabs seldom venture.
It’s just an experimental program for now. But if the vests ever are distributed citywide, let’s just hope they don’t mar the lines of the drivers’ new professional attire