She decided to look into the commuter van routes, but was unable to find that information, so she made a FOIL (Freedom Of Information Law) request from the city. She received a packet of maps clearly indicating the geographic zone in which each van authority is allowed to operate. Information for Transxpress and J&HE, the van authorities that Daraio has received the most complaints about, was not included.
However, Daraio maintains that the commuter van issue never went before Community Board 5, a detail confirmed by CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano, who has held the post for 20 years.
According to Giordano, TLC-regulated vehicles are required to come before the board with base station applications and renewals, but he said that the protocol for commuter vans is unclear as the board has never been presented with an application or renewal for commuter van authorities.
Daraio said, “The lack of enforcement by TLC in our area is basically giving the green light to commuter van companies to operate outside of their authorized zones.”
To prove her point, in true vigilante fashion, Daraio and a friend patrolled the neighborhood last May and August, compiling a list that included the van authority name, license plate number, and pick-up/drop-off locations. She noted that commuter vans are actually permitted in South Elmhurst, but oftentimes she has observed vans making pickups and drop-offs around the Super Stop & Shop on Grand Avenue and 74th Street in Maspeth.
The problem, said Allan Fromberg, a spokesperson for the Taxi Limousine Commission, is that Daraio’s list was compiled some time ago and that commuter van routes and zones are subject to change. He said the Department of Transportation sets the zones, but commuter van authorities set their own routes. They can even go off their routes so long as they only pick up and drop off within their zones.
“Within that zone, they have the flexibility and ability to create routes that are specifically demand-responsive to their group of customers. It’s sort of like a custom bus route, if you will,” said Fromberg, likening it more to a school bus than a city bus.
Daraio said she contacted TLC about a year ago regarding the commuter van issue and some TLC enforcement agents came out and issued summons to commuter vans that had violations. Since then, however, commuter van drivers have gone right back to doing the wrong thing.
“This is one industry that’s totally not being monitored,” said Daraio, “but if you park at a parking meter they [the city] slap your butt with a summons.”
Fromberg said that the TLC has run every license plate Daraio has brought to them and always inspects the complaints she makes. He addressed another one of Daraio’s concerns regarding lost tax revenue to the City when commuter vans stop to pick up riders who flag down the vehicle instead of calling in advance. Commuter van authorities, said Fromberg, are private companies; TLC only licenses and regulates them.
Daraio is still convinced that commuter vans are illegally operating in Maspeth, but despite all the other problems they bring with them, her main concern is traffic. With school buses, city buses, commercial trucks, and personal vehicles regularly making the rounds in Maspeth, the traffic situation remains a sticking point.
“I don’t need more traffic; I need more traffic like I need a wart on my nose,” said Daraio, adding that at least five bus lines run through Maspeth, more than enough public transportation for the neighborhood. She added, “If there’s going to be a service, the community should be able to say whether they want it or not.”