When Brooklyn cyclist Paul Vogel e-mailed the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission a picture of a green outer-borough taxi parked in a bike lane this week, he hoped the agency would take action and prosecute the driver. After all, city traffic law explicitly prohibits parking, unloading, or driving in a bike lane. The TLC, which maintains its own rulebook with accompanying fines, requires its drivers to comply with NYC traffic laws.
But the commission responded that it would not be pursuing the alleged violation. "While we understand that you had a negative experience," they wrote via e-mail, "the conduct you described is not against TLC rules."
Vogel, who rides with a camera mounted on his bike to ding drivers for violations, says he's filed more than 300 complaints with the TLC in the last year, and only a small handful of them have been dismissed on the grounds that they weren't a rule violation. The majority have resulted in a fine, either to the driver or the driver's base.
Streetsblog reported this week that several cyclists have had a similar experience recently—they've sent in an alleged violation of the NYC driving rules, only to receive word that the TLC will not be pursuing it. Tipsters told the blog that the TLC ascribed the trend to a "policy change."
According to Vogel, the TLC later classified the alleged green cab violation as unloading (GPS showed that the driver eventually picked up a passenger from that spot). Vogel says he's never had an unloading case dismissed before. "It's definitely a policy change," he said.
The TLC denied on Friday that it has a new policy for assessing bike lane violations. However, a recent spike in complaints of alleged bike lane violations has brought attention to certain limitations in their prosecution processes.
"We investigate every complaint we receive, and consider each of them on a case-by-case basis, reviewing...various safety and customer service concerns, such as the potential for dooring—which can happen when drop-offs take place just outside of a bike lane—or an insistent passenger’s request," said commission spokesman Allan Fromberg in a statement. "Many complaints are about for-hire vehicles, not GPS-equipped taxis, so it's much harder to ID the driver."
"So yes, while we definitely do prosecute bike lane-related violations, there are times when cases cannot be effectively prosecuted," he added.
The TLC, like the Department of Sanitation or the Department of Buildings, prosecutes alleged rule violators in an administrative tribunal setting through the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represents cyclists in NYC, says that OATH resources are tight—in addition to juggling TLC complaints, they also have to try, say, homeowners accused of incorrectly sorting their trash, or landlords who allegedly fail to inspect their elevators.
"There's nothing per se impermissible about TLC saying we are not going to punish drivers who violate that provision of city law," Vaccaro told us. "TLC, for example, could decide that it didn't have adequate enforcement resources since this is such a widespread problem."
It's still up to the NYPD to ticket drivers who break the law, but the NYPD tickets are typically less costly: $115 per violation, while TLC violations range from $100 to $300. (A recent WNYC report found that bike-lane blocking tickets are on the rise.)
Vaccaro added that surge in alleged bike lane violations should inspire the TLC to crack down, rather than let up. "A widespread problem would be a reason to take this seriously," he said. "Not a reason to throw up our hands and say, 'There's too much of it going on so let's just make some other agency deal with it.'"