NEW YORK (PIX11) — New Yorkers are always looking for better ways to get around, especially in areas with limited transit service.

From commuter vans to for-hire rides, there are other options but those industries are also facing challenges. New York City Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held an oversight hearing on the Taxi and Limousine Commission on Thursday. It was chaired by NYC Councilmember Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, who represents southeastern Queens. 

Taxi and Limousine Commissioner David Do was called to testify about the agency plans and answer questions. He said 2,200 taxi medallion owners have signed up for New York City’s medallion debt program; 1,500 owners have been processed and their debts reorganized. 
The city agreed to a $225 million fund to address the drivers’ financial situations. 

“It’s about families, food on the table and the future of hard-working people who make the city run. Many of our driver provide service in times of crisis,” said Do. 

Taxi rate increases around 23% have been proposed by commission. That will be voted on in the next few weeks. It would be the first increase in a decade. 

Many drivers spoke at the hearing, as well.

“We cannot survive in this industry on $15 an hour, renting a vehicle or you are an owner operator,” said Israel Acevedo, a driver. 

Driver Sonam Ghising Lama also spoke.

“We are immigrants,” Ghising Lama said. “Our parents are not billionaires, millionaires.”

The commissioner also said TLC would allow 1,000 new for-hire vehicle licenses, but only if the cars are electric or accessible.  

Many told the City Council members in attendance about excessive fines and penalties.

“It needs to be reformed. That sends a message to drivers and gives them hope. We also drafted three bills that would put two drivers on the commission panel to have representation,” said Raul Rivera with NYC Drivers Unite.

The commuter van industry also addressed a measure that they say would level the playing field. 

The City Council is also considering a bill to support a change in state law that would allow commuter vans to legally pick up street hails.

“This industry was born out of neglect in public transportation. There are parts of the city, the Rockaways, where bus service ended at midnight. Commuter vans keep our community moving,” said Hector Ricketts, owner of Community Transportation Systems and the Commuter Van Association of New York. 

Leroy Morrison has been working on the issue for years as a commuter van company owner and president of NYC Commuter Van Association. 

“Today is a big moment: to see that commuter vans deserve the rights to pick up people and take them to work and to school. Treat us the same as Uber and Lyft,” he said. 

The commuter van discussion moves to Albany for the January legislative session. Commuter van drivers can be stopped and ticketed by police. They are licensed for certain travel operations by the TLC.