NEW YORK (PIX11) — Advocacy groups have warned everyone who uses car apps and livery cabs to beware. TLC licensed drivers are using private cars as livery cabs in New York City.

Unless you look at the plates, you would never know. That’s the concern, said Fernando Mateo, the founder of the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, an advocacy group representing 30,000 drivers across New York state. 

Mateo claims the Taxi and Limousine Commission is holding back tens of thousands of TLC plates that were surrendered during Covid, creating an Illegal hustle. Drivers like Thierno Bah from the upper west side said it’s unfair.

Mateo said licensed livery cab drivers are now using their personal private cars as taxis with no TLC plates or insurance coverage because they can’t get their plates back. He estimated there could be as many as 5,000 illegal vehicles on the road.

“We take the operation of unlicensed for-hire vehicles extremely seriously, and our Enforcement and Prosecution Divisions constantly work to prevent illegal ride-hustling,” the TLC Commissioner David Do told PIX11 News. “If you order a vehicle that does not have TLC plates, do not get in, as it has not passed a safety inspection and is uninsured for commercial operation.”

Mateo said he meets with the TLC Commissioner, and there is progress. They are working together to try and get more plates back on the streets. Until then, the best way to protect yourself, said Mateo, is to check the license plate before entering a vehicle.