The Taxi and Limousine Commission this week revealed a proposal for new, highly-specific definitions of sexual harassment and sexual contact that would establish license revocation and fines for drivers who touch or ejaculate on their passengers, as well as fines and suspensions for drivers who comment on their passengers' appearance or even broach the subject of dating. The so-called "clean up package" would apply to all taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers.
"Even what some would call 'innocent flirting' is absolutely inappropriate and no passenger should be subjected to that environment," said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg on Tuesday. According to Fromberg, the goal of the package is to take rules that currently have a "very broad interpretative base," and make them more specific, cutting out room for misinterpretation either on the driver's part, or the passenger's.
The TLC guidebook currently lumps all "threats, harassment, and abuse," into a single category. "While performing the duties and responsibilities of a Licensee," the guidebook reads, "a Licensee must not threaten, harass, or abuse any person, and must not distract or attempt to distract any Service Animal." The listed punishment is a $350-$1,000 fine and 30 day license suspension.
The proposed guidebook language defines sexual contact as "any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person," including the passenger touching the driver or vise-versa, ups the fine to $2,000, and mandates the permanent revocation of the driver's TLC license. "Emission of ejaculate by the licensee upon any part of the victim, clothed or unclothed" is also prohibited.
The proposed punishment for sexual harassment is a $1,000 fine and 30 day license suspension, and encompasses "engaging in any conversation related to sexual acts and sexual contact, or any other matter relating to... gender, physical appearance, expressing a desire to see or touch another person's body or expressing a desire to enter into any type of relationship with another person."
As for how the more-specific rules would be enforced, the TLC stated that it encourages passengers to reach out to them with any questions or complaints.
According to the NYPD, 14 out of 166 reported stranger rapes in 2015 took place in cabs, up from 10 in 2014. Earlier this month, two women reported sexual assaults in cabs—one in an Uber in Brooklyn, and one in a taxi in Queens.
The TLC stressed this week that all types of complaints have increased in recent years, from about 17,000 per year in 2014 to about 21,000 per year in 2015. While Fromberg said the statistics point towards the need for more specific TLC guidebook language across the board—not just when it comes to sexual assault—he stressed that the 23% increase in complaints is "proportionally lower" than the 40% increase in drivers over that time period.
In January, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton urged women to protect themselves in for-hire vehicles by adopting a "buddy system" when leaving bars at night, a suggestion that many anti-harassment advocates deemed victim-blaming. Two pieces of legislation currently winding through the City Council would put less of an onus on passengers—a panic button that would connect directly to the NYPD, and mandatory sexual assault prevention training for all for-hire drivers (according to the TLC, all 150,000 TLC drivers are now required to attend a training school, where they study the rule book, including its language on sexual harassment).
Brooklyn Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo is making a push for more specific definitions of assault and harassment at the City level, with legislation that would require police precincts to report the type of sexual assault committed in an incident report—stranger rape, or intimate partner rape, or improper touch. Not only would more specific documentation alert the NYPD to the most prevalent types of harassment, she argues, but increased specificity might encourage more victims to come forward.
The clean-up plan is scheduled to go up for a TLC vote on April 21st.