New parking restrictions beneath the Sheepshead Bay Road train station have livery drivers saying “catch me if you can” to police and potential passengers in hot pursuit of their vehicles.
Last week, the city replaced nine “No Parking” signs along Sheepshead Bay Road between E. 14th and E. 16th streets with “No Standing except trucks loading and unloading” signs. The new rule, first reported on the Sheepshead Bites blog, is intended to keep neighborhood-based car services from backing up traffic, according to Steve Zeltser, spokesman for Councilman Michael Nelson who petitioned the city to install the signs.
Now, the car service drivers, who frequently sat in their cars beneath the train station — legally — in hopes of illegally snagging easy fairs looking for a ride home from the train, are being chased away or ticketed by cops.
”These signs are bad for business,” said Steven, an Ameriworld driver who declined to give his last name because he often disobeys the signs. He said many of his co-workers have gotten tickets that they pay out of their own pockets. “But we take our chances to wait for our passengers and move the car when we see a cop coming.”
Even though picking up passengers who haven’t called them in advance is prohibited for all taxi services except yellow cabs and licensed “dollar vans,” passengers have come to depend on the Sheepshead Bay Road cabs for rides home from the station, and are occasionally left out in the cold.
“It’s terrible to see elderly people have to wait longer to get a cab because many of the cars are moving around, away from the cops,” said Akrem Muhammad who works at Bay Quick Mart between E. 15th and E. 16th streets.
That’s not a problem when police are not enforcing the new rules.
On Monday morning, as many as five cabs line the street at a time, as if the signs weren’t even there.
And when cops are on the prowl, cautious cabbies mostly adhere to the signs, with some briefly sneaking into a spot in hopes of picking up a quick customer, as we witnessed over the course of an hour last Thursday morning. Some pull up at the curb and wait several minutes before driving their car around the block. They’ll repeat this charade until they finally snag a passenger.
“We just park until we see police coming, and then we move immediately,” said one Blue Diamond Car Service driver. “But we need to be able to wait somewhere.”
The city says that its intent was to improve traffic flow on the heavily congested strip — and the cab drivers were a major part of the problem because they took spaces away from trucks making deliveries to local businesses. The trucks would then double-park, blocking traffic.
”Before the signs, there was an insane amount of bumper-to-bumper traffic on those narrow streets,” Zeltser said. “Those signs had to go up to fix the problem.”
However, many business owners say that the cabs still get in the way of delivery trucks.
“I haven’t noticed an improvement for delivery trucks at all since the signs were put up,” said David Gadr, owner of Bay Supermarket between E. 14th and E. 15th streets. “Cabs still block the trucks from pulling up to the curb. It makes the traffic a mess.”
In other areas of the borough, the city has been a bit more proactive in dealing with cabbies picking up fares who haven’t called ahead by legalizing it.
At Kings Plaza Mall, the city is brokering a deal with a local car service to set up a cabstand to divvy out service to customers. A similar deal has been in place at the Ikea in Red Hook for over a year.
And to clear up all the confusion regarding “No Parking,” “No Standing,” and “No Stopping” signs, here’s a breakdown: It is legal to sit behind the wheel of a car stopped in a “No Parking” zone, but is not legal to do so in a “No Standing” zone, where cars are only allowed to stop briefly and drop people off. A “No Stopping” zone allows neither.
Violators of the new “No Standing” signs can be hit with a $115 ticket.