At a recent City Council Transportation Committee hearing, a bill was introduced to mandate an agreement between livery bases when one base wishes to use drivers from another base. Passing this bill would protect consumers and small livery bases, like ours, that serve neighborhoods not served by taxis and green cabs. Unfortunately, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the city agency charged with regulating the transportation industry, is on the wrong side of this issue.
At the hearing, the TLC Commissioner stated "some smaller bases do not always have enough business to occupy their affiliated drivers or even enough market power to enter into an agreement with another base that has terms friendly enough for smaller bases to accept them and remain profitable."
It's true that we do not always have enough business to occupy drivers, but contrary to the TLC's interpretation, that's precisely why our small bases need these base agreements, particularly with the bigger bases.
Bases look to dispatch drivers from other bases because they need additional drivers to fulfill their customer service requests. Base agreements protect our small businesses by helping us maintain our driver pool to service our customers and allow other bases to dispatch our drivers when we don't have enough work for them, thereby maximizing drivers' incomes.
Without base agreements, other companies will dispatch our affiliated drivers anytime they want, leaving our customers stranded. The bottom line is that if a base wishes to dispatch to our drivers, then that base should have no problem entering into an agreement with us.
The TLC's argument about "Market Power" is also baseless! These agreements are precisely the mechanism to keep us on equal footing, preventing big bases from taking our drivers whenever they want or need.
All this begs the question: Why does the TLC make these arguments? Is it to protect the interest of, and maintain order in the industry? Or is it to make it easier for venture capital companies such as Uber and Lyft to poach our drivers?
We have run bases that service consumers in Queens for 18 years, in Brooklyn for more than nine years, and in the Bronx for more than three years. Since they entered the marketplace, Uber and Lyft have systematically poached our drivers, making it impossible for us to honor commitments to our customers and protect our small businesses, which are struggling to stay afloat.
So, why should the average person care about this? Because if companies like Uber and Lyft put us out of business, everyone will have to pay their higher prices for car service.
Here's the truth: for 30 years, the TLC has allowed base agreements to exist. It was only after Lyft and Uber came to the market that the TLC took up the issue of base agreements to the benefit of the app companies and the detriment of our bases and customers.
If the TLC had bothered to consult with us or with the Livery Roundtable, the industry group that represents the interest of the livery industry, there may have been a different outcome. But they didn't. And so that is why it is our hope that the City Council passes the base agreement bill.
Felix Suero is the president of the Dominicana Radio Dispatcher in Queens and Jose Viloria is the owner of Elegante Car Service, with bases in the Bronx and Brooklyn.