Assemblywoman Margaret Markey brought civic leaders together with police, traffic and taxi officials at her Maspeth office last week to discuss community concerns about traffic congestion and safety as a result of a flood of commuter vans on major roadways and side streets on weekdays in Maspeth, Elmhurst and Woodside.
Among those present at the October 22nd meeting were leaders of Queens Community Boards Two, Four and Five, as well as the local civic group, Citizens of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together (COMET). Officials included representatives of the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), and Police Department (NYPD), including the 104th, 108th and 110th Precincts and the NYPD Borough Command; representatives of the NY State Department of Motor Vehicles attended by conference call.
"The meeting was a valuable opportunity for government agencies involved in registration, licensing and enforcement of these vehicles to hear directly from civic leaders about the adverse impact of van services on local communities," said Assemblywoman Markey. "We also learned about how some loopholes in industry regulation contributes to the inability of the police to enforce the rules. I think we took an important first step to toward a more effective response to the problems caused by these vehicles," she added.
Police officers at the meeting explained that one of the major loopholes in effective enforcement of van industry is that operators may register their vehicles for different types of license plates, each carrying its own different set of rules, with authority to issue citations divided among different agencies. Chief among the difficulties is that the NYPD cannot issue violations to vehicles with taxi plates. As a result of the meeting, police officers from three local precincts will receive orientation and training by the Taxi & Limousine Commission to be able to enforce TLC regulations in addition to normal traffic rules.
“"This is an important change that will empower our local precincts to be more effective in reducing the impact these vehicles have on congestion and safety in our streets," said Assemblywoman Markey.
Roe Daraio, President of Citizens of Maspeth, Elmhurst, etc, (COMET), said: "Over the past several years we have observed increasing numbers of commuter vans throughout the streets of northern Maspeth and the Winfield section of Woodside, with little or no enforcement of rules about where they are authorized to operate. The over-sized vans block intersections, driveways and bus stops and cause congestion on our residential streets. As a civic organization seeking to ‘green’ our neighborhoods, we believe that reducing unnecessary and illegal traffic is one good way to cut down on pollution and encourage folks to use mass transportation."
The vehicles that are classified as commuter vans have a seating capacity of 9-20 passengers. The vans are licensed by the NYC Department of Transportation to operate in a defined geographic area based on a demonstrating a need for the service to be offered. Applicants are qualified to operate by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission. DOT officials said that the NYC Transit Authority, City Council members and local community boards are supposed to be notified when applications are up for approval, though representatives of two of the three boards represented at the meeting said that they did not recall ever receiving notice that would give them the opportunity to comment on issuing this type of authorization.