Rideshare Rooftop Ads

Today more than 80 members of the Independent Drivers Guild descended on City Hall to call for the city to reverse its ban on rooftop advertising for for-hire vehicles. The Guild testified at a City Council Transportation Committee hearing in favor of City Council bill Intro 1738, sponsored by Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, which would allow for-hire vehicle drivers to earn much-needed extra pay through rooftop advertising. 

Exterior roof-top advertising opportunities are currently only afforded to medallion owners, but not FHV owner-operators, including drivers for app-based and livery services. Drivers can earn as much as $300 per month and $3600 per year through rooftop advertising without driving extra hours and adding to congestion.  Intro 1738 is the first of a handful of bills in the works to address the demands and concerns raised in IDG’s Drivers’ Bill of Rights, which has the support of more than nine thousand drivers so far. 

“For years, drivers have been struggling to make ends meet. Rooftop advertisements are an easy way for drivers to supplement their income without having to drive longer hours and add to congestion,” said IDG executive director Brendan Sexton. “In the life of an Uber or Lyft driver, an extra $300 per month can mean the difference between being able to afford health insurance or not. It can cover a month’s worth of fuel expenses or after school child care.”

“We are thankful to Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez and Members of the City
Council Transportation Committee for listening to drivers and we urge the Council to support this bill as an important step to provide immediate and much-needed relief to drivers,” added Sexton. “We are also pleased that the Taxi and Limousine Commission today voiced support for rooftop ads with the amendment we have urged which would require that ad revenue goes to drivers, rather than Uber or Lyft, leasing companies, or big fleet owners, as has occurred in the taxi industry.”

The IDG led a years-long campaign to win the nation’s first minimum wage for app-based drivers in New York City at a rate of $27.86 per hour, however app companies violated these rules and city regulators failed to take enforcement action. In response, more than 100 IDG members unveiled the Drivers’ Bill of Rights at City Hall this past fall, calling for the city to address concerns affecting drivers’ livelihoods. A week later, thousands of IDG members temporarily closed down the Brooklyn Bridge and the FDR in protest and in response to the city’s TLC ignoring Uber and Lyft’s violation of the City’s own minimum pay law. Now more than nine thousand drivers have signed on to the Guild’s Drivers’ Bill of Rights. Members of the Transportation Committee responded and have told the Guild they are working on a number of bills addressing the issues raised in the Drivers’ Bill of Rights. Today marks the first hearing addressing one of these issues and what the Guild hopes is the first of several bills to come before the committee to provide relief to struggling drivers.

Here is IDG’s prepared testimony for today’s hearing:

Testimony of Brendan Sexton, Executive Director
Independent Drivers Guild (IDG)
Before the City Council Committee on Transportation
January 22, 2020

Good morning Chairman Rodriguez, members of the Transportation Committee. My name is Brendan Sexton and I am the Executive Director of the Independent Drivers Guild, otherwise known as IDG. We are here to wholeheartedly support Intro 1738. 

Joining me today on this panel are some drivers who will help me tell our story — the story of how app-based drivers who, despite the reforms passed by this Council and despite what TLC claims, continue to struggle to make a fair and livable wage. (and I’d also like to acknowledge the IDG members drivers who have joined us here today in the audience) As we explained to this Committee back in September, the minimum pay rules are failing to meet their intended goal as Uber and Lyft continue to circumvent the rules and the TLC continues to ignore our pleas for assistance and enforcement. 

More than 100 IDG members came before you that day to seek your help as we rolled out our Drivers Bill of Rights to address these and other concerns affecting drivers’ livelihoods. A week later, thousands of our members temporarily closed down the Brooklyn Bridge and the FDR in protest and in response to TLC ignoring Uber and Lyft’s blatant violation of this City Council’s own minimum pay law. I am pleased to know that the City Council, and especially the Members of this Committee, have heard our pleas and a number of bills addressing the issues raised in our Drivers’ Bill of Rights are in the works. Today marks the first hearing addressing one of these bills and what we hope is the first of several bills to come before this committee to provide immediate and much-needed relief to drivers.

As many members of this Committee know through our discussions over the last few months, we believe Intro 1738 is a very important measure that would provide app-based and livery drivers with an opportunity to supplement their income from driving. This is money that will go directly into the pocket of FHV owner-operators – not base owners, not Uber, not Lyft.

This legislation would require that the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) issue permits to allow for exterior rooftop advertising on any type of for-hire vehicle, provided such advertising complies with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations. Exterior roof-top advertising opportunities are currently only afforded to medallion owners, but not FHV owner-operators.  This bill would provide for parity, equality, andNa significant step in the fight for the fair treatment of these hard-working New Yorkers. 

We were all dumbfounded when, in August of 2019, TLC took away this ability — and only from FHV drivers.  Given the continuing struggles FHV drivers continue to go through, this just added insult to injury. 

Intro 1738 corrects this injustice by affording FHV drivers the opportunity to contract with TLC approved advertising companies for digital rooftop advertising and earn $300 per month/$3600 per year in
supplemental income. As you will hear from the drivers themselves, this additional income can and will make a big difference in the lives of FHV drivers as it can cover any number of expenses, such as health insurance, which is not provided by the app-based companies, a months’ worth of healthy groceries (according to the USDA),  or 100% of a driver’s monthly fuel expenses.

It is also important to note that this opportunity to earn additional income comes without any obligation to spend additional hours on the road and, as a result, will not increase congestion.  It will also allow hardworking drivers to bring home the same income while spending less time on the road and more time with their families.

All that being said, we also want to ensure there are additional driver protections built into this legislation to ensure that it is the drivers who benefit from this opportunity, not the app companies, not leasing companies and fleet owners. ALL drivers must be afforded this opportunity without undue interference from the exploitative nature of app-based or leasing companies. While 80% of our industry’s drivers own their own cars, 20% do lease.  And as you all know, our industry’s drivers have major issues with predatory leasing companies. (and we have been talking with Council Member Moya about his leasing legislation). Therefore, while this legislation as currently drafted will definitely benefit a majority of our drivers, we are less certain, given the leasing industries tendency to take advantage of our drivers, about the rest. 

We would like to see an amendment to Intro 1738 that provides TLC with the regulatory authority to ensure drivers are protected and not further exploited by preventing leasing companies as well as the app companies from either requiring or prohibiting drivers from obtaining rooftop advertising and ensure that any and all revenue derived from such advertising goes directly and fully to the driver at a fair and mutually agreeable rate.

In speaking with some of you on this Committee, another concern has been raised that I would like to address. We have spoken to a major rooftop advertising company (who we understand will be testifying here today) who currently provides exterior rooftop advertising to the taxi industry and it is very clear: the existing benefits to the taxi industry from digital rooftop advertising will not be diminished or diluted by this bill in any way. To the contrary, if advertisers and drivers are able to deploy rooftop advertising on both taxicabs and FHVs, the advertising coverage to advertisers would be expanded within the city, and rooftop advertising becomes more attractive to advertisers and ultimately becomes more sustainable for all vehicle classes.  

For the past few months, our team has engaged numerous council members on this and other pressing issues, and I’d like to thank Chairman Rodriguez for spearheading the effort to introduce this bill.  I’d also like to take a moment to thank those of you who have chosen to stand with IDG, our drivers and working-class New Yorkers by sponsoring and supporting this bill – it’s clear that you all truly understand just how important this income will be for drivers and their families. Your care is also demonstrated by the other issues on the agenda today–with regard to legislation that would create a Black Car and Livery Task force, we applaud any efforts that would assist with the viability of this industry and help our brother and sister black car and livery drivers. We would only recommend that the legislation be amended to provide for driver and/or driver labor organization representation on the task force.

It’s important to note that Intro 1738, which is related to exterior advertising, is very different from the internal panel advertising legislation. The policy question regarding internal panels entails different considerations that have been the subject of litigation, and although IDG supports any effort to provide increased opportunities to supplement FHV driver income, we believe these issues should be separated. The exterior advertising legislation already has broad support within this committee and we want to ensure that the support that we have worked to secure is in no way jeopardized by an unrelated piece of legislation. 

In closing, I want to thank the Committee for all the work you have done and all we have accomplished together over the last few years in providing relief to 80,000 working families – specifically the approval of landmark driver income and transparency legislation in 2018. And while this has provided some needed relief,  the TLC’s resulting regulations and their lack of enforcement has caused some real problems whereby the full intent and goal of this legislation has still yet to be realized. 

More work needs to be done, but Intro 1738 is an important and significant first step and FHV drivers need to know that this committee, that the City Council is listening and doing all they can do
to help. 

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