Dollar van drivers: We want street hail permits

Leroy Morrison, who runs Alexis Van Lines, isn’t happy about the new laws the city wants to pass for outer-borough street hails — and says the $1,500 registration fee he will be charged will drown his business in bills.
Photo by Steve Solomonson

Dollar van drivers who zip up and down Flatbush Avenue between Downtown and Mill Basin say they want to horn in on the city’s controversial plan to give livery cabs the right to accept street hails — but claim that the Taxi and Limousine Commission is thwarting their attempts to legitimize their illegal, yet accepted, practice of occassionally picking up customers who flag them down at bus stops.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission is poised to sell 6,000 street hail permits that would allow car service drivers to pick up customers at the curb instead of waiting for passengers to call for rides.

But dollar van drivers — who cannot legally pick up street hails — say they aren’t included in the city’s plan, even though they claim Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Yassky promised they would be.

“The chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission is playing with us,” said Leroy Morrison, the manager of Alexis Van Lines, who’s driven a commuter van for 25 years. “Commissioner Yassky needs to wake up and think about these guys who have a family and want to make a decent living!”

Dollar van drivers throughout the borough are outraged that they will not be able to make a bid for a $1,500 permit, according to Morrison.

But even if they were allowed to get one, many dollar van drivers won’t be able to afford the costly fee, advocates say.

“It’s unfortunate that we can’t find a way for these small businesses to perform at their optimal capacity,” said Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush), who noted that the city asked dollar van drivers for their assistance during 9-11 and Hurricane Irene.

“We were led to believe that they were going to be grandfathered into any plan. If we can clear a path for these people, we can focus on getting rid of the illegal road vans that are out there.”

Yet Commission representatives say commuter van drivers can join the street hail plan — which has been sidelined as opponents sue the city over the law’s constitutionality — and insisted that the fees requested are a bargain compared to the $1 million yellow cab medallions can cost.

They also noted that the program was completely optional.

“If they choose to make the decision, they can do better with a different business model,” said Commission spokesman Alan Fromberg. “They don’t have to do this — though we expect the permits to be very popular.”

Despite Fromberg’s assurances, dollar van drivers feel they’ve been deceived by the city.

“That’s bulls—,” said Morrison, who claimed that he had several meetings with Yassky about their inclusion in the bill. “Yassky promised they would waive the fees. All we want is to be grandfathered in and our vans will remain two dollars.”

For Caribbean communities in Flatbush, the dollar vans that run up and down the length of Flatbush Avenue are an important part of getting around town.

They were such a necessity that the city recruited dollar vans to pick up pedestrians along terminated bus routes in 2010, but the plan fell apart when no one would use the vans, officials said.

Even without permits, motorists say dollar van drivers continue to pick up passengers at bus stops along Flatbush Avenue — a practice criticized by many in communities like Marine Park and Mill Basin.

“By law, they’re not supposed to be competing along bus routes,” said Councilman Lew Fidler (D–Marine Park).

“They also add to congestion and their conduct on the road leaves something to be desired.”

The Taxi and Limousine Commission floated the idea of giving livery cabs the ability to accept street hails last year, but the plan was immediately opposed by yellow cab drivers, who claimed it would diminish the value of their medallions.

The city ultimately got the assembly and the state senate to approve the plan, but opponents took the city to court, claiming that the council should have reviewed the proposal — not the Albany legislature.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said that livery cab street pick up permits would be welcomed by Southern Brooklynites, who already stick their hands out for unmarked cabs more than any other city residents, according to a Commission study.

More than 65 illegal hails occur every hour at Mermaid and Stillwell avenues in Coney Island — the highest amount in all five boroughs, the study claimed.

Kings Plaza in Mill Basin is also a top-five spot, with about 20 illegal hails per hour.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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