New York TLC Ban on Rooftop Advertising Will Cost Drivers Thousands of Dollars

A lot of mixed signals are coming out of New York right now. The city recently passed the nation’s first rideshare minimum pay rules for Uber and Lyft drivers, which was a big step forward for the industry and the fight for driver pay. But now, the agency has quietly announced that it will take away drivers’ income from rooftop advertising on their vehicles.  Rideshare drivers who already have rooftop advertising installed on their vehicle will have to remove it by August 31st, unless the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) reverses course.

New York City has been at the center of a growing discussion about the economic hardships facing drivers, both taxis and TNCs, which led the City Council and then the TLC to take the ground-breaking steps of passing the nation’s first driver minimum pay rules.  RSG wrote about this as a big moment for the industry and the TLC and Mayor Bill de Blasio have rightfully proclaimed that this policy has led to drivers earning an extra $500 per month, or a $6,000 boost in annual income. And Uber and Lyft have both sued the city, so you know it’s probably a good thing for drivers.

On one hand, the minimum pay rules are a major achievement that are greatly appreciated by drivers and I applaud. But the TLCs recent decision to ban rooftop advertising is a slap in the face to the same drivers they’re trying to help. One of the things I like most about services like Firefly (rooftop ads) and Vugo (in car tablets) is that the earnings drivers receive are independent of Uber and Lyft, or anyone else for that matter.

Earlier this year, the TLC approved the first digital rooftop advertising providers for Uber and Lyft vehicles, and NYC drivers began signing up to make as much as $300 per month in extra money with their vehicles.  We have seen this in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and most participating drivers have loved the added income that isn’t tied to the changing policies and prices of the TNCs – and doesn’t require drivers to spend more hours on the road.

Unfortunately, last week the TLC quietly announced a major policy change that will take money out of drivers’ pockets.  The agency published an Industry Notice on FHV Advertising that states:

“Following a recent court decision, the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) will resume enforcing Section 59A-29(e) of TLC’s Rules, which prohibits displaying advertising on the interior or exterior of for-hire vehicles (FHVs). FHV owners who obtained permits from TLC to display exterior advertising on their vehicles may keep the advertisements on their vehicles until all existing permits expire on August 31, 2019. All FHV owners must remove any advertisements from the interior and exterior of their vehicles by August 31, 2019.”

To translate, this notice is basically saying drivers who are currently earning up to $300 per month from rooftop advertising will have that income taken away from them, and no other drivers will have that opportunity in the future.  This is income that could have helped drivers make money without being fully dependent on Uber/Lyft’s often unexpected fare and incentive changes (usually equalling a wage cut).

The obvious question is: Why would the TLC choose to hurt drivers’ income like this?

If $500 per month is the crowning achievement of the City’s pro-driver agenda, how is a policy that takes away $300 per month anything short of a massive, anti-driver-income policy disaster?  In fact, the $3,600 in lost available income would offset more than half of the average income gains from the minimum pay rules passed last year. Now obviously, not ever driver uses rooftop ads, but they should have the option if they want to.

The TLC hasn’t offered any rationale to explain this move other than “following a recent court decision” but the court decision in question concerned only interior vehicle advertising in NYC, and it upheld the City’s right to limit advertisements in rideshare vehicles if it wanted to, another policy I disagree with.

It’s not too late for this decision to be reversed, though, since the deadline is Aug. 31. At a minimum, the TLC should immediately extend the permits of drivers currently allowed to have rooftop advertising on their vehicles and grandfather them in. Even Uber and Lyft do this when they enact new rules and policies. The TLC should also move as soon as possible to amend the TLC rule so that rideshare vehicles are allowed to advertise on their exteriors in the same way that taxis are already allowed to do so.

What’s ironic is the way the TLC has handled this issue mirrors the way Uber and Lyft have treated drivers. The TLC gave drivers the opportunity to make more income with rooftop ads and now they’re taking it away. At the same time they’re adding regulations like minimum pay to help drivers, they’re taking away secondary income sources like rooftop ads.

Luckily, it looks like the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) is rallying to fight this anti-driver policy. Here’s what Brendan Sexton, Executive Director for the IDG had to say:

“The TLCs actions to take away income from drivers is a slap in the face to hard-working New Yorkers who are already struggling to make ends meet. For some drivers, this is the equivalent of losing 10 percent of their salary. Drivers are telling us that without this additional income they will not be able to pay for health insurance for their family. It makes no sense why the TLC did this especially after saying it is serious about helping drivers earn a livable wage.”

We will be covering this policy debacle closely here at the Rideshare Guy and urge our NYC readers to speak out against this ban by contacting the TLC and joining the IDG to help fight for drivers.  So, stay tuned for details as we learn more.

Update: We recently heard from the Rebecca Harshbarger, from the NYC TLC, who provided us this statement:

The TLC had always prohibited advertising in for-hire vehicles, and this was upheld in a federal court decision last month. We’ve seen no evidence of drivers benefiting from advertising, and only 70 out of 120,000 for-hire vehicles have permits for exterior ads (which they received while our rule was temporarily enjoined in February). Both the City and State have also taken steps recently to rein advertising in the public sphere, such as unauthorized billboards and floating billboards, to protect our city landscape. Billboards on the roofs of 120,000 for-hire vehicles would negatively impact the city landscape in a dramatic way.

Readers, what do you think of these developments in New York? Do you think city councils could enact similar rules in your city?

-Harry @ RSG