Driving through Manhattan’s maze of construction sites, pedestrians and double-parked delivery trucks is a notoriously fraught affair — but not for William Abebrese, a yellow cab and Via driver who has completed nearly 19,000 trips since 2015 without a single crash or traffic ticket.
“Being extra careful is the important thing and so is having patience,” said Abebrese, 33, of Concourse Village in the Bronx, who has been a licensed TLC driver for six years. “Even if you’re running late, the most important thing is to get there safe.”
Abebrese was one of 420 drivers honored Wednesday for their resolve behind the wheel at the Taxi and Limousine Commission’s fourth annual Safety Honor Roll. TLC acknowledged cabbies and livery workers for their safety records, customer service and completion of ADA-accessible trips. To make the honor roll, drivers must work full-time and avoid any crashes involving injury, traffic violations or TLC safety rule violations.
Together, the honorees drove nearly 6 million miles last year — the equivalent of about 239 trips around the world — without safety issues, noted TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi.
“It’s a staggering number, especially when you link it to what it represents — hours and hours and hours of careful driving in a city that prides itself in being fast,” Joshi told the crowd at Borough of Manhattan Community College. “I believe it would be a safe bet to say that outside this room and beyond our honorees, there are very, very, very few — if any — drivers who can claim to have achieved a record of safety under such similar circumstances.”
These are a few of the honorees:
Luis Alvarez, 64, Upper West Side
Luis Alvarez was honored for completing 157 ADA-accessible trips in his first few months of driving a wheelchair accessible vehicle this year. Alvarez, a grandfather of eight, happened into his honor. After ditching an old Crown Vic for a wheelchair-accessible Toyota Sienna early this year, he assumed he’d be paying for extra room for luggage. But he found instead a demand for accessible service and chased after it.
“I work the bus terminal, so I was looking for a big car to fit a lot of luggage,” said Alvarez, who began as a cabbie in 1975, when he drove a checker taxi. “And along came the ramp with the wheelchair and room for like 14 suitcases. But from then on I started [to] pick up people in wheelchairs or scooters and the income turned out to be good.”
Felix Suero, 47, Corona, Queens
Felix Suero has worked as a driver since 1997 and now manages the Dominicana Radio Dispatch, a Corona, Queens, livery service that was honored as the safest in the city.
“I have to keep my eyes on the street at all times and look out for that person that might step into the streets,” Suero said. “Now there’s too much traffic. There’s too many people … it’s a lot more complicated to drive around now.”
Domingo Fernandez, Washington Heights
Domingo Fernandez, a green cab driver from Washington Heights, was honored for his customer service record, which the TLC calculates by reviewing all formal compliments from passengers. Fernandez said good service is about tending to the “little things,” like greeting riders, assisting those who might need help getting into the car and carrying luggage. If a rider is new to the city, he’ll offer info on passing landmarks and make dining suggestions around the neighborhood.
“Professional drivers are the eyes of our community,” Fernandez said. “To me, customer service means that the passenger is confident and comfortable — they’re able to trust us to do a good job.”
The TLC oversees nearly 170,000 licensed drivers who work for either yellow or green cabs, local liveries, black car services (which include ride-hail apps) and commuter vans. This year, these drivers have been involved in 32 crashes with critical injuries or fatalities through August, according to TLC data. Criminal charges or summonses were issued to eight of the drivers involved in those crashes, according to the data.
Hank Miller, from the advocacy group Families for Safe Streets, praised the drivers at the ceremony while stressing that the city still has to strive to be better under Vision Zero, the de Blasio administration’s goal to eliminate traffic deaths. Miller’s sister, Victoria, was killed as she was walking down Fulton Street in Brooklyn Heights in 2015, when an unlicensed driver jumped the curb and struck her.
“While we have seen great success under Vision Zero, City Hall must remain committed to building on that success and never be satisfied … until we put an end to all senseless and preventable deaths and injuries on our roads,” Miller said.