The City Council is set to pass a trio of bills on Wednesday aimed at better regulating the commuter van industry, which lawmakers have long referred to as the “wild west” of New York transit.
The package of bills would place a cap on the number of commuter vans that can legally operate in the city at 735; mandate an annual, city-led study of the industry and increase civil penalties for rogue van operators.
“This legislation will help us solve the dilemma and bring some much needed controls to an often unregulated industry,” said Councilman I. Daneek Miller, who sponsored two of the bills, at a Transportation Committee meeting on Tuesday. The committee passed the legislation, moving it along for a full Council vote on Wednesday.
“These are necessary to control the proliferation of illegal vans that are creating mayhem in communities and those who choose to operate outside of the law.”
There are currently about 584 commuter vans operating out of 52 bases, according to the most recent data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
But there are estimated to be hundreds of more, known as “dollar vans,” that operate in immigrant communities around the city, with concentrations in areas like Flushing, Queens, and central Brooklyn.
These vans fill transportation the gaps in neighborhoods that are underserved by mass transit, but officials like Miller and Jumaane Williams, a sponsor of a third bill passed in the committee Tuesday, also argue that the unlicensed, uninsured vans also pose serious safety concerns.
Currently, there is a maximum penalty of $1,000, with no minimum, for those caught operating a commuter van unlawfully. The new legislation would set a new fine minimum at $1,000, with penalties increasing up to $4,000 for repeat offenders.
“We are calling for increased enforcement,” said Williams at the committee meeting. “This is not a carte blanche for other vans to jump in; we don’t want that. We need TLC and NYPD to please work with us to get those rogue vans off the road.”
Allan Fromberg, a TLC spokesman, said in a statement that, “We very much appreciate working with the City Council to increase safety in the commuter van industry by supporting the licensed commuter van industry.”