An investigation by the New York Civil Liberties Union found that the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) denies the public access to administrative law hearings at their offices in Long Island City, Queens, NYCLU Executive Director Norman Siegel announced today. Siegel said this may be illegal.
Siegel also charged that the TLC fails to provide taxi cab drivers with the minimum respect that city residents should expect from their government officials. During a visit to the TLC offices in Long Island City, Siegel observed at least 100 people forced to wait out in the rain for hours before they were allowed to enter the building for administrative hearings. Meanwhile, there was more than enough space to accommodate these people in the building lobby.
"I went to the TLC facility to observe the procedures accorded taxi cab drivers and to determine whether these procedures were fair," Siegel wrote in a letter to TLC Chair Diane McGrath-McKechnie. "What I experienced and observed was so troubling that I write to you with the hope that the Commission will change the disturbing practices that are recounted here."
Siegel visited the TLC offices with United Yellow Taxicab Association officers Vijay Bali and Hardev Otal on October 27, 1998. During their visit, Siegel was astounded to discover the level of disrespect with which New York City¹s taxi cab drivers were treated by TLC officials.
Association Spokesman Vijay Bali said, "New York City taxi cab drivers work hard to provide a valuable and vital service to city residents and tourists. They should be treated with dignity."
Besides being forced to wait in the rain, Siegel found that the TLC does not schedule individual appointments for hearings. Instead it asks all drivers who need to attend hearings to arrive at 9 a.m. and, if necessary, to wait all day until they are called. Then, once the taxi cab drivers get into the building, there are no written materials: no posters, brochures, or even simple fact sheets, that might explain their rights or the hearing procedures at the TLC.
In his letter to the TLC, Siegel provides a detailed breakdown of the problems he and the United Yellow Taxicab Association representatives found at the TLC Long Island City facility and asks Commissioner McGrath-McKechnie to exercise her authority to remedy them. He also asks for a meeting with the TLC.
A copy of the NYCLU letter to the TLC follows.
November 25, 1998
Diane McGrath-McKechnie, Chair
Taxi & Limousine Commission
40 Rector Street
New York, NY 10006
Dear Ms. McGrath-McKechnie:
On Tuesday, October 27, 1998, I went, with Vijay Bali and Hardev Otal of the United Yellow Taxicab Association, to the Taxi Limousine Commission's (TLC) facility in Long Island City. What I experienced and observed was so troubling that I write to you with the hope that the Commission will change the disturbing practices that are recounted here.
I went to the TLC facility to observe the procedures accorded taxi cab drivers, and to determine whether these procedures were fair. When I arrived, at approximately 10:15 a.m., there were at least 100 people lined up outside the building and it was beginning to rain. I was informed that the daily practice is to allow only a limited number of people into the building at one time to renew their licenses.
I proceeded to the third floor, and when I arrived there, I saw many people waiting for their hearings. I was informed that on many occasions people have to wait a long time before their cases are called. The explanation given was that everyone is told to arrive at 9:00 a.m.
After waiting on the third floor for a while, I asked one of the guards if there were public phones I could use to call my office. His response was that there were no public phones in the building. I was told that if I wanted to make a telephone call, I had to go outside.
On the third floor, where the hearings are held, I sought permission to observe the hearing held with respect to taxi driver Iqbail Singh. (Mr. Singh and his representative Joe Scifo had given me permission to observe Mr. Singh's hearing.) In fact, I was not allowed to address the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) directly in order even to make a request to attend the hearing. Mr. Scifo had to make the request for me. He informed me that the ALJ said that it was not his/her decision, but Joe McKay's decision. (I was informed Mr. McKay works for the TLC). Mr. Scifo then spoke to Mr. McKay. I was told that Mr. McKay would meet with me. Some forty minutes later, Mr. Scifo informed me that Mr. McKay would not meet with me, and that Mr. McKay said that the policy of the TLC was not to permit the public to attend and observe TLC hearings.
On the third floor, there were many people waiting for their hearings. As people came out of the elevator and into the area where they had to register, I noticed that there were no written materials being distributed explaining the process. There were no flyers, brochures or even signs detailing what was to happen.
What I experienced and observed on October 27th reflects a process that needs to be changed and improved. First and foremost, the TLC has an obligation to make sure that its hearings and its process are open to the public and fair and accommodating to its participants. Currently, this is not the case. We believe that members of the public should have the right to attend and observe TLC hearings. To deny the public this right is to mire the TLC in secret, closed door proceedings that, at a minimum, will breed distrust and mistrust. Moreover, it may be illegal.
You can provide the necessary leadership to make the above-mentioned change a reality. In addition the following recommendations should be considered:
1. People Not Allowed in the Building
This makes no sense, especially as we approach the cold weather. Surely, there is a better way to accommodate the people coming to renew their licenses than by having them remain in the street for an extended period of time. I observed ample space on the first floor (ground floor) that could have accommodated all the people who had to remain outside in the rain.
2. People Waiting Hours for their Hearings
Perhaps a staggered time of arrival could be developed. At a minimum, a 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. arrival time can be arranged so that everyone need not wait as long as they currently have to wait. This would benefit not only cab drivers but law enforcement agents as well.
3. No Public Telephones in the Building.
If this is correct, it should be changed. It should not be difficult to arrange for a public phone to be placed on each floor. It's a small, but important, accommodation that should be made for the people coming to the facility and having to stay, sometimes, for approximately 5 hours.
4. No Brochures, Flyers or Signs
The absence of such written material adds to the confusion that seems to permeate the process. Surely, written materials can, and should, be developed to accommodate the cab drivers and law enforcement agents.
I am prepared to meet with you and others at the TLC to discuss the contents of this letter and the recommendations suggested here.
I await your response.
cc: TLC Commissioners