Public advocate tells riders to only use legit commuter van drivers in New York City

(l. – r.)Deputy Public Advocate Kashif Hussein, Public Advocate Jumaane WIlliams and Winston Williams at a March 10 press conference.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams says he is working with the Taxi and Limousine Commission to help New Yorkers discern between licensed and unlicensed commuter van drivers in the name of safety.

While dollar van drivers provide for a demand, without regulation from the city unlicensed operators could pose a danger to their passengers and others going about their lives, according to Williams.

But there remains the issue of shady services far outnumbering dollar vans who are certified.

Williams hopes the TLC will increase enforcement of laws set in place to protect the public, which could result in fines for those operating without a license, according to Williams.

“We’re asking people who use the vans, that have no other choice for transportation to get to work, to look for stickers, check the license plate and to look for the New York City commuter van logo,” Williams said. “We want everybody to make a living, I know the gentlemen who are driving probably woke up trying to figure out how to feed their family. We know that, which is why we have the capacity to bring other vans online in a legal way.”

Winston Williams, who owns Blackstreet Van Lines, said competition in Flatbush on Utica Avenue is tough and drivers who are licensed are outnumbered anywhere from five to one or ten to one, by his own estimates.

“A lot of [the unlicensed vehicles] are Pennsylvania or out of state plates and not carrying the right insurance or the drivers may not be licensed properly to operate the vehicles in the way they’re using them. The unfortunate thing about it is they’ve overshadowed the authorized commuter vans.”

According to Winston Williams, the cost to go legitimate as a commuter van operator is only about $500 and the public advocate said previous legislation passed while he was in City Council provides a pathway for drivers to gain approval from the TLC.

“The TLC takes this issue seriously, and we look forward to working with Public Advocate Williams to deepen these critical efforts together,” TLC Chair Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk said in a statement to amNewYork Metro.

For approval, an application must go through the TLC first and then to the city Department of Transportation for approval after a series of meetings and judgements, Williams said.

According to proprietor of Blackstreet, one deterrent to van services taking the legal route could be cost of insurance which he says has been on the rise.