After an early September City Council hearing it’s still unclear if the TLC will reverse course on its ride-hail advertising ban or if the council will pass a law to overrule the agency. But ride-hail advocates say they’ll continue to fight until their drivers have the right to advertise on their vehicles.

“We’re going to talk to City Councilmembers and we’re just going to figure out what we can do next about these drivers who are in need of immediate assistance,” Brendan Sexton, executive director of the Independent Diver’s Guild, said.

The Committee on Transportation mainly called the hearing to ask the TLC about ride-hail – meaning companies like Uber and Lyft – pay standards and the for-hire vehicle cap that was passed in 2018 and renewed last month. But the ad issue did come up in a limited capacity.

This hearing followed the TLC’s August decision to reinstitute a ban on rooftop ads for ride-hail vehicles, contending that they are a form of visual clutter that’s disruptive to pedestrians. A move that some drivers argue is detrimental to their livelihoods because the ads can bring in up to $300 a month in additional income, which Sexton said is 10% of some drivers’ annual salary.

“This just seems like a no-brainer to allow drivers to earn additional revenue,” Sexton said.  

The San Francisco based company Firefly is one of a number of startups that are affording ride-hail drivers the opportunity to earn extra income by equipping them with digital advertisements. It ran a beta phase in 2018, which allowed drivers to earn up to $300 a month in extra income and officially launched in San Francisco and Los Angeles last December.

In New York City, companies like Firefly have had a harder time rolling out ride-hail ads because of a TLC rule stating that only medallion cabs have the right to advertise. In 2015 another ad company named Vugo – which installs digital screens on the backs of seats in ride-hail vehicles – sued the TLC over this rule.

While the case was still pending in court earlier this year, the TLC allowed Firefly to start partnering with some ride-hail drivers, who installed rooftop displays on their cars and started earning extra income from the practice. Then when the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the TLC’s ride-hail interior ad ban in August, the agency promptly banned rooftop ads as well.

In an emailed statement, TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said the agency has never allowed advertising for for-hire-vehicles – that aren’t medallion taxis – and that this rule was upheld by the appeals court decision.

“We’ve seen no evidence of drivers benefitting from advertising, and only 70 out of 120,000 for-hire vehicles have permits for exterior ads [which they received while our rule was temporarily enjoined in February],” Fromberg said in the emailed statement.

A source within the TLC added by arguing that this issue is actually about big money and ad revenue and has very little to do with drivers.

However, Paul Klimas – who’s a full-time ride-hail driver that owns his vehicle – said Firefly was paying him $300 a month in extra income since installing the digital display on his car in May. Klimas said that last year after deducting taxes and expenses he made between $28,000 and $29,000 and that the extra $3,600 in income from the ads would’ve made his life much easier.

“With the additional income from the digital roof ads I was planning to pay for my mandated TLC insurance,” Klimas said during his testimony at the council hearing. “I even started to look for health insurance because I was finally able to afford it.”

Klimas added that the loss of the additional income that he was earning from ads means that he has to spend more time on the road. He ended his testimony by calling on the City Council to overrule the TLC and pass a law that allows ride-hail drivers to advertise.

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