Ira Goldstein was shocked when he started hearing the latest reports from transportation companies across New York City as the Big Apple’s 8.6 million residents practice the state’s “Stay-At-Home” order.
“What I’ve heard is a reduction in business from 70-90 percent,” said Goldstein, the executive director of the Black Car Fund, the non-profit organization that protects over 170,000 for-hire drivers and their passengers in New York State.
“During the (2008) Great Recession, business dropped 40 percent. That was a huge number then, and now we’re talking double. I just can’t imagine that number; we’re talking unheard of cuts.”
Goldstein said there is still some traditional black car work available, with hospitals and helping move medical personnel around the city. He went on to say there’s also some excess availability from business clients still working, and from non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT).
But the pickings these days are slim, and part of the problem is the vehicles themselves.
“There’s some talk about working together with other industries, trying to get different protections in vehicles,” Goldstein said. “Cabs have those (Plexiglas) partitions between the driver and passenger, so we may have black car drivers take cars out with a partition instead, for their safety as well as the passenger.”
Goldstein said the Black Car Fund is working hard for the drivers, trying to make their situation better. “We’re working on getting all the drivers masks. We’ve ordered around 25,000. I’m hedging my bets, ordering from three different vendors, but there’s one place that has them in stock that we hope will deliver this week.”
He’s also looking into purchasing washable, reusable masks. “They are more expensive, but will be more useful for the drivers,” Goldstein said.
“We’re putting together bags for all the drivers. We’ll give them a couple pairs of gloves, at least two masks for starters, hand sanitizer and wipes. We’re trying to fill in that gap where they are missing some key things,” he added.
Goldstein began dealing with the New York transportation industry just a month before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. “I started at the Taxi and Limousine Commission as a per-diem attorney, and after the attacks I stayed on, and was at the TLC for 10 years, eventually becoming its chief of staff,” he said.
But even the terrible damage in his city didn’t hurt the for-hire transportation industry like the coronavirus pandemic.
“After 9/11, there was a huge dropoff initially, but then it wasn’t as bad. The cab business only dropped like 3-4 points. It really bounced back pretty well,” he said. “People were scared at first, right after the attacks, but then it became a patriotic mission to get back out living.
“But this pandemic, that’s a whole different, another animal altogether. It just all happened so quick. It really started for me at the end of February, and that now seems like it was years ago.”
And Goldstein fears there are harder times ahead.
By Mike Biglin