ACKMAN LAW OFFICE                                                      WRITER-AT-LARGE




June 2, 2000

TLC Is Driving Cabbies Nuts 



A few months ago, I was spending a lot of time in taxi garages reporting on a story about the lives of immigrant cabbies. Nearly every cabbie I spoke to told me that what I really should be writing about was the Taxi & Limousine Commission and its courts. "Kangaroo courts," the drivers said.

When I tried to see for myself, TLC officials told me the public wasn't allowed in. When I told them that their policy was illegal, they didn't deny it. But they did force me to file a lawsuit in state Supreme Court to gain admission. I won the case, and the TLC courts have been open for a month now.

The other day I went back to see whether anything had changed. Kangaroos were everywhere.

Tzong-Yih Yueh bought his yellow cab eight years ago. The last time the TLC checked it, inspectors noticed that the voice asking passengers to wear their seat belts belonged to Isaac Hayes. The TLC cited him because he was supposed to be broadcasting Dick Clark.

Yueh, a native of Taiwan, had no reason to favor Hayes over Clark. He just never got the notice that Clark had superseded Hayes. Once he learned that Clark was in and Hayes was out, he went to a taximeter shop and changed the tape. The whole thing took 10 minutes and cost $15. Rather than let the matter rest, however, inspectors ticketed him.

Insisting he could not comply with a rule he was never told about, Yueh contested the charge. His adherence to principle cost him a whole day in court.

Another driver, who asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution, was dropping off passengers at the New York Palace hotel just before going off duty.

As his fares got out, an NYPD taxi squad officer demanded his trip sheet. Why, the officer asked, was his off-duty light on without an off-duty notation on his trip sheet? The driver tried to explain that he had had no time to write it down, because he had come to a halt that instant. The officer examined his car and interrogated him about his fares that day. Finding nothing else wrong, he cited the cabbie for improper use of his off-duty light.

This cabbie, 70, retired after 30 years as a supervisor for the Transit Authority. He said he drives three days a week but added, "If I'd known what was involved, I never would have got into it."

Jonathan Thierman, a Norwalk, Conn., resident, drives a Lincoln Town Car, a gift from his brother. On May 5, he was dropping off friends at LaGuardia Airport when a TLC inspector asked for his hack license. Thierman, 55, was transporting friends in his own car, but the inspectors were not interested in his explanation and confiscated the vehicle.

Although a judge ultimately dismissed the charge, Thierman lost the use of his car for three weeks and got it back with a damaged windshield to boot.

These are just a few cases, but they are hardly isolated incidents. Notices sent to the wrong address, drivers being made to wait all day for a 9:30 a.m. hearing only to have it adjourned for another day, dubious summonses backed up by TLC inspectors' testimony that TLC judges accept as the word of God: These are everyday events in the Long Island City hearing rooms.

For years, the TLC barred the public from its tribunals, offering reasons that were transparently bogus. Hearing rooms are too small, it said; in fact, there is plenty of space. The public might be afraid to come forward if the press were watching, it said; actually, city inspectors bring 95% of all cases, so the public plays little part. Onlookers might disrupt the hearings, it said; there is absolutely no evidence to support that.

The TLC has done what it can to block scrutiny of its practices. Unless the press and public develop an interest, the kangaroos will continue hopping to their hearts' content.


Ackman filed the lawsuit that forced the Taxi & Limousine 
Commission to open its hearings to the public.




ACKMAN LAW OFFICE                                                      WRITER-AT-LARGE