TLC Attorney Declares That Bikes Aren’t Vehicles
1:15 PM EDT on August 23, 2012
One morning in May, I was riding my bike up Park Avenue in the East 70s, a stretch that is rife with double-parking at that hour. Seeing a cab and another vehicle stationary ahead of me in the right-hand travel lane, I carefully checked behind and then pulled into the middle lane. As I passed the cab it began to move -- parallel to me and into my lane. It was quickly clear to me that the driver saw me but meant to occupy my space, whether or not I was in it. I shouted and swerved. The driver advanced a little more, then stopped and leaned on her horn. Then, seeing an opening, she whipped around me.
Catching up to the cab at the next light, I told the driver that she should have yielded. No, she indignantly asserted, you should have been in “the bike lane.” I pointed out that there is no bike lane on Park Avenue and that a cyclist has a right to the road. She insisted that bicycles are subject to different rules. When I told her I’d report her actions to the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), her response was essentially “go ahead.”
I thought long and hard about following through on my threat. After all, it was a trivial incident compared to the tragic crashes that kill or seriously injure cyclists in this city. What tipped the scales for me was the knowledge that bike-share would soon be adding thousands of bikes to the streets. I wanted to do my part to spread the word among cabbies that cyclists are legitimate road users, so I made a formal complaint to the TLC. I never suspected that a TLC attorney would share the driver’s view.
In July, I received a letter from Sameer Shukla, Esq., of the TLC, informing me that although the agency understood that I had “a negative experience” with one of their licensees, “we cannot at this time file charges in relation to your complaint. The conduct you describe does not constitute a violation of any specific TLC rules.”
I called Mr. Shukla for a fuller explanation. During the course of our conversation, Mr. Shukla first suggested that I should have gone around the cab to its right -- a narrow and perhaps impassable space between the double-parked and parked cars. He then stated inaccurately that a bicycle is not a vehicle in the eyes of the TLC, and suggested this as the reason the agency would not pursue my claim. If I wanted clarification of the policy, he said, I could contact TLC Commissioner David Yassky. Here is my exchange with Mr. Shukla. His declaration that a bicycle is not a vehicle appears about 20 lines down.
COUGHLIN: Isn’t there a rule against failing to yield to another vehicle that has the right of way?
SHUKLA: There is a rule but the case as I understand it you were behind the driver and you were going around him [sic] as he [sic] moved, correct?
COUGHLIN: No, I was to the left of the driver, I had to go into the other lane because she was in the right-hand lane . . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] then it wouldn’t be a failure to yield
COUGHLIN: So in other words if there is a vehicle to the left of the cab and the cab attempts to pull into a lane that is already occupied by another vehicle, that’s not a violation?
SHUKLA: I’m not going to get into hypotheticals . . .
COUGHLIN: No, that’s what actually happened.
SHUKLA: I understand, but there’s no way that we can prove reckless driving if you’re behind the cab and then you go around.
COUGHLIN: I wasn’t behind the cab. I was actually to the left of the cab.
SHUKLA: Well, I think that’s the point, that you should have been on the right.
COUGHLIN: How could I be on the right? There was no travel lane on the right. The cab was discharging a passenger in a travel lane . . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] I understand, but if you’re going to go around the cab and the cab moves as you go around there’s no way we can prove reckless driving.
COUGHLIN: The cab saw me, this is the point, the cab saw me and continued to attempt to move into my lane. . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] well the point is that we can’t go forward with the case because we can’t meet our burden of going forward.
COUGHLIN: Yeah, but I’m trying to understand why you can’t meet that burden.
SHUKLA: Because it doesn’t satisfy the elements of the offense.
COUGHLIN: So a cab can actually move into another vehicle in a travel lane?
SHUKLA: But you’re not a vehicle, sir.
COUGHLIN: I’m not a vehicle?
SHUKLA: No. You said you were operating a bicycle.
COUGHLIN: That’s right.
COUGHLIN: A bicycle is not a vehicle?
SHUKLA: No, it’s not.
COUGHLIN: It’s not? Have you checked the law on this?
SHUKLA: Yeah, as far as the TLC is concerned. The only thing we do is we regulate licensees, and you know, I’m not going to get into traffic law or anything like that with you, I’m just telling you what we can or cannot pursue against our licensees and if we can’t meet our burden of going forward, we don’t pursue the claim.
COUGHLIN: Well, I’m interested in this notion that I’m not a vehicle.
SHUKLA: Well, you’re certainly entitled to feel any way you want, but the fact of the matter is that we’re not pursuing the claim against the driver.
COUGHLIN: Yeah, but I think it’s very significant that the TLC doesn’t regard bicycles as vehicles.
SHUKLA: OK, well you’re certainly free to think what you want.
COUGHLIN: Don’t you think that’s significant?
SHUKLA: Sir, I’m, I’m not going to engage in this conversation with you. The fact is we’re not going to go forward with the claim.
COUGHLIN: Is this the official position of the TLC, that a bicycle . . .?
SHUKLA: [interrupts} I’m telling you that with this particular claim, with your claim, it’s not going to be prosecuted, that’s what I’m telling you.
COUGHLIN: But you also said that bicycles are not considered vehicles.
SHUKLA: I’m not going to get into any specific discussions of policy of what the TLC does or does not do. I’m telling you that with your claim we’re not going forward.
COUGHLIN: Well, let me ask you this: If I’d been in a car and . . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] I’m not going to engage with hypotheticals with you about what would happen this way or that way or what would happen. I’m simply telling you that with this particular claim that you filed, we are not going forward.
COUGHLIN: And how do I find out what the official position of the TLC is . . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] you can feel free to write David Yassky, he’s the commissioner of the TLC.
COUGHLIN: Yes I know him.
SHUKLA: OK, then you feel free to contact him.
COUGHLIN: OK . . . Is it a violation to discharge a passenger in a . . .
SHUKLA: [interrupts] I’m not, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals with you, OK?
COUGHLIN: This is not a hypothetical . . .
SHUKLA: I can only tell you, sir, that we’re not pursuing this claim, OK?
COUGHLIN: I can’t help but think that the sole reason the TLC is not pursuing the claim is that I’m a bicyclist and not a motorist.
SHUKLA: Well, you can feel free to think whatever you’d like, but I’m just telling you that we’re not going to pursue the claim.
I was shocked to learn that the TLC would back up a cab driver who deliberately disregarded the legal rights of others on the road, but here it is straight from the lawyer’s mouth. I plan to follow up with Commissioner Yassky.
Anyone who has a cab’s plate number can file a complaint against a driver online. It’s quick and easy and you can do it here.
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