Jeffrey Roth, the mayor’s pick to lead the Taxi & Limousine Commission, pledged to work with drivers but provided few details on his overall vision for the embattled agency during his confirmation hearing Thursday before the City Council.
Roth acknowledged that plummeting medallion values have sent the agency into “crisis” and touted his leadership in crisis management while serving in the New York Army National Guard and as assistant commissioner of the city Fire Department. He currently serves as deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Veterans’ Services.
“My focus, if appointed, will be to address ways of strengthening the yellow [cab] industry to protect drivers that own medallions who are facing defaults on medallion loans,” Roth said during the hearing. “The TLC must have their back.”
Nine TLC drivers have committed suicide in a little more than a year, as medallion values have plummeted and e-hail companies brought more than 100,000 new vehicles onto the streets.
Several Council members were frustrated by Roth, who they felt failed to answer straightforward questions directly. They also worried about his 2014-2016 stint as deputy commissioner of policy and external affairs for the TLC, which coincided with the medallion industry’s collapse.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had to ask four times whether Roth believed the TLC did not properly regulate taxi medallions before Roth acknowledged a failure. Roth also didn’t outright agree with Johnson that the city should apologize to drivers who bought medallions at inflated rates with predatory loans before companies like Uber and Lyft flooded the market.
“If this is going to be the stance and posture that we’re going to be in before you’re even confirmed, when we have very serious questions about what’s happening [when we’re] in a crisis and drivers are suffering … that’s really concerning to me,” Johnson said.
After some more prodding, Roth said he would be open to exploring a bailout for drivers.
"I think it’s got to be discussed," Roth said, pledging to work “very closely” with the Council — though Roth didn’t clearly endorse a package of bills aiming to more tightly regulate the taxi industry.
“We need more specifics here today,” Johnson vented.
The speaker took the hearing as an opportunity to call for the city to pause its proposed “cruising” penalties, designed to disincentivize companies from allowing vehicles to remain empty in Manhattan’s core. Johnson felt the TLC should not move forward with a “major policy proposal” until a new TLC chair has been confirmed.
“I would think that they would want you in that seat to help them make that decision before they actually vote on these rules,” Johnson said.
No vote has been scheduled for Roth’s confirmation.