TLC-authorized livery drivers take a defensive driving course, get drug tested and clear a criminal background check, but that’s not the case for ‘gypsy’ cab drivers, who often steal business from authorized taxis and livery cabs. Nearly 6,000 cars acting as gypsy cabs were confiscated from their owners in 2012.
City taxi inspectors seized a record-high 5,776 illegal livery cars last year, more than triple the number confiscated the prior year, authorities said Thursday.
The record could be smashed again this year because inspectors already hauled 849 vehicles off the road in January — up from 276 the prior January.
Nearly all of the busts are gypsy drivers, who poach riders from licensed livery services and yellow cabs.
“We are stressed all the time,” said yellow cab driver Cosme Afandalo, 43, of the Bronx. “We see them (gypsy drivers) commonly picking up passengers right in front of us. It has an impact on our business.”
TLC-authorized livery drivers must take a defensive driving course, get drug tested and clear a criminal background check. The TLC also sets minimum insurance levels for any accidents involving passenger injuries and inspects livery cars for defects.
Gypsy drivers bypass all those requirements.
“At best, these illegal vehicles and their drivers are stealing business from legitimately licensed taxis and liveries,” said TLC Chairman David Yassky. “But at worst, they are potentially unlicensed, anonymous drivers with underinsured, inadequate vehicles.”
Cabbie Abdul Rahman Ali, 47, of Queens, said, “It definitely makes me frustrated and angry because that’s my ride and someone illegal is picking them up … I can’t do nothing about it.”
Inspectors confiscated 1,737 cars in 2011. The increase in 2012 is partly due to the TLC’s hiring of 100 additional inspectors last year.
A new class of recruits hit the streets last month and another group just began training.
“I strongly believe the work my fellow officers and I are doing out there really makes a difference,” said Israel Ramos, a TLC chief. “We protect the riding public, and we support the legitimate operators who do the right thing.”
Still, industry groups say more needs to be done because the illegal activity is so rampant.
“It’s not enough,” said David Pollack, executive director of the Committee for Taxi Safety.
“I think it’s still a ripple in the water compared to what’s really out there,” added Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
Depending on the number of violations issued, a driver can be forced to pay between $500 and $1,500 in fines before getting a confiscated car back. There’s also the $185 towing fee and $25-per-day storage fee.
For years, the TLC seized between 1,200 and 1,500 livery cars. More aggressive enforcement wasn’t possible because there wasn’t enough room in NYPD tow pounds for more vehicles, officials said.
But last year, Damon Hemmerdinger, co-president of ATCO Properties and Management, offered the TLC temporary use of a two-acre lot the company owns in Glendale, Queens. The TLC soon plans to have the operation moved and taken over by a private towing company, Yassky said.