Taxi Workers Alliance takes NYC TLC to court over unjustly suspended drivers’ licenses

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) announced Monday that they will be seeking millions of dollars’ worth of damages after an unconstitutional Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) protocol left drivers with unjustly suspended licenses.

In 2019, a federal appeals court ruled a policy that revoked arrested taxi drivers’ licenses was unconstitutional following a 15-year court battle. Now NYTWA are calling on the city to “put things right.”

Gathering at Foley Square on Monday morning, in the shadow of the numerous court houses, NYTWA and their legal team announced the lawsuit. Drivers argued that if they were arrested, even if charges were dropped and found lacking evidence, they would still lose their livelihood, forcing them to face extreme poverty and even homelessness.

Ahmed Elsherif. Photo by Dean Moses

“I was driving a taxi on Feb. 23 when a female passenger attacked me, assaulted me for no reason,” Ahmed Elsherif said at the Dec. 12 press conference. “I called the cops but instead of arresting her, they arrested me. My license was suspended for over a year and a half. I was suffering, I was struggling. I had to borrow money from my sister.”

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance, called the policy unjust since she says many licenses suspensions were a result of mostly non-violent and non-traffic-related arrests and charged. She further alleged that, in the majority of cases, criminal charges were eventually dismissed or reduced to non-criminal offenses, yet the drivers were still punished by their licensing agency before court sessions were even held.

“I think most of us as Americans take a lot of pride in is the idea that you are innocent until proven guilty, and we never understood why, for thousands of drivers, that basic American value was never held. It was never extended to them. A value that so many Americans get to enjoy and almost every American feels pride in. But basically, those rights for taxi drivers, for Uber and Lyft drivers, for black car drivers, livery drivers, green cab drivers were completely trampled on,” Desai said. “We’re really proud to be standing out here today outside of this courthouse with a legal team that had the backs and the hearts of the drivers that refuse to believe that drivers should be treated as second class citizens and for over 17 years now.”

New York Taxi Workers Alliance shared stories. Photo by Dean Moses

According to NYTWA’s legal team, the TLC license suspensions affected some estimated 20,000 drivers and in order for these workers to receive compensation for the forced work stoppage, they must each undergo a hearing, something that the attorneys say could take years. With 5,000 currently signed up to undergo the process, the attorneys say they are looking for double that to sign up. It is with this lengthy process in mind, the group is calling upon the city to offer a settlement to drivers who have faced hardships.

“The court here has said that in order to get damages, in order to win back compensation for the time drivers have been out of work, drivers will have to have a hearing. Now, to be honest, it’s a little outrageous. We have more than 5,000 drivers who’ve signed up. We’re looking for 10,000 to sign up. There are 20,000 drivers who were affected by this illegal unconstitutional process. There is not going to be enough time in the world to have a hearing for every single one of them. We call on the City of New York to make this right now. Come to the table, bargain with us. Let’s reach a fair deal to put this matter to rest and put everyone back to work,” Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan said.

Executive Director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai. Photo by Dean Moses

According to TLC, the court cases and arrangement of hearings are still undergoing final proceedings by the court system. 

“Procedures have evolved since the inception of this lawsuit 17 years ago, and all of the processes we have in place today are constitutional. We take the rights of our drivers seriously and we are committed to their fair treatment. This administration has gone above and beyond to deliver financial support and better working conditions for drivers,” TLC Press Secretary Jason Kersten said.

The deadline to register for the hearings is Jan. 13.