As teased back in February, the Taxi and Limousine Commission has voted unanimously to tighten its shift regulations for all drivers of city taxis and for-hire vehicles, in an attempt to target driver fatigue. Beginning in November, drivers will be capped at driving 12 hours in a 24-hour time period or 72 hours in a week, and any violation will lead to fines and/or suspension.
The new rule was first proposed earlier this year, after two key events: first, last November a taxi driver fatally struck an 88-year-old woman while on an 18-hour shift broken up by two short breaks; and second, in January, Uber slashed UberX fares by 15% citywide, leading some drivers to start taking on longer shifts. Under the preexisting regulations, all TLC drivers' shifts were technically capped at 12 hours, but they could begin a new shift after a "break" of just a few minutes.
These new regulations will mandate that drivers take an 8-hour break after a 12-hour shift, and will apply to all 140,000 drivers licensed by the TLC. In proposing the new rules, the TLC cited CDC research that showed being awake for 18 hours results in impairment akin to having a blood alcohol concentration of .05, a level that would be considered driving while under the influence in this state; once someone's been up for 24 hours straight, that's comparable to a BAC of .1, which is 1.25 times the DWI threshold. It also noted that over 2014 and 2015, drivers working more than 12-hour days had a crash rate 23.8% higher than those working fewer than 12 hours a day.
But the rule change has been vehemently opposed by taxi drivers and for-hire vehicle drivers alike, who showed up in droves to a hearing on the matter last month. As the NY Times reported, the drivers argued that they know their own limits and won't be able to make enough money to support themselves and their families under the new restrictions.
"This is an injustice," one longtime taxi driver, Samkar Padder, told the Times. "Without 14 hours, you can't make $400 a day. Without that money, I cannot feed my family."
Similarly, Uber opposes the new regulations as currently written because it believes they could significantly reduce the amount of money its drivers are able to make. The rule voted on yesterday states that "any hour of the day or week that contains at least one pick-up of any passenger(s) for hire will be counted as one full hour toward the daily or weekly limit, regardless of the duration of the trip." In theory, that could mean that a driver would reach his or her daily limit with 12 trips amounting to 10 minutes each.
"Uber strongly supports driver safety and believes in using technology to create policies that make transportation safer," said spokesperson Matt Wing. "The current TLC rule as written could unfairly penalize thousands of for-hire vehicle drivers."
However, Wing added that Uber was encouraged by comments made yesterday by TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, who said that in the months before the rules go into effect, the commission will be looking at how it could more accurately collect data on trip times. Currently, the TLC doesn't track drivers in real-time but rather penalizes those who exceed limits after the fact, but a live tracking system could alleviate some of Uber's concerns.
"At the last meeting much of the testimony focused on earnings and the interplay with safety standards, and we were clear then and remain clear that safety considerations must guide our approach," Joshi said. "Since the hearing, our discussion has shifted to what is the best way to calculate fatigue, and the difficulty in doing so in a world with differing levels of data."