Professional driver advocates say the city should be looking for a new Taxi & Limousine commissioner with a background in economics and a focus on policy.
“There’s a serious economic crisis in this industry, and [the next chairperson] needs to be interested in policy, not just politics, and care for the workers at the end of the day,” said Bhiaravi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 20,000 of the city’s professional drivers. “Given the level of crisis that drivers have been under, you need a chairperson who is going to be bold and really willing to put even their own kind of career interests second to the plight of the drivers."
The head of the city’s Taxi & Limousine Commission, Meera Joshi, will step down from her post in March, the de Blasio administration announced over the weekend.
Joshi, whose policy positions clashed with those of the mayor’s, has headed the department since 2014 and oversaw a tumultuous period for the driving industry, as Uber and Lyft flooded the market and upended long-held practices of the ride-hailing industry.
“Thanks to a skilled and principled TLC staff, a Commission dedicated to doing the right thing and engaged industry members and advocates, through public debate and data, we increased accountability, safety, access, modernized taxi regulation, protected drivers and increased consumer protections. I am deeply grateful to the TLC community that made this possible,” said Commissioner Joshi in a statement.
Joshi oversaw the department as New York became the first major city to temporarily cap the number of e-hail vehicles on the road, and more recently spearheaded the nation’s first minimum wage for e-hail drivers. She also succeeded where other cities failed in acquiring more pickup and drop-off data from e-hail companies.
She also grappled, however, with a tragic series of driver suicides as e-hails multiplied on the streets of the city, decreasing the value of taxi medallions and rattling the economics of the industry.
Desai did praise Joshi for her “heart” as well as her “institutional knowledge” and “vision.”
De Blasio undercut Joshi several times this past year. In July, as Joshi’s agency issued a report that became the foundation for setting the minimum wage for e-hail drivers, de Blasio’s office failed to endorse the idea, with the mayor’s press secretary calling it “very premature.”
De Blasio stepped on Joshi’s toes more recently as the state looked to administer a congestion surcharge on taxi and e-hail trips in a large swath of Manhattan. After Joshi said the policy would be “devastating” for taxi drivers, de Blasio endorsed the proposal as a way to decrease traffic volumes. A judge blocked that policy from taking effect last month after cabdrivers filed suit.
In a statement announcing the news, de Blasio hailed his commissioner, saying she will be leaving an “unparalleled legacy.”
“In this unprecedented period of growth, Meera has brought about equally unprecedented and vital change that will serve as a model for cities throughout the nation and the world,” de Blasio said. “Under her leadership, New Yorkers who use wheelchairs can get service, passengers are assured that every driver and vehicle is safe, our city has detailed records of the one million daily trips, and New York City is the only place where app drivers have pay protection.”