New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission apologized Monday for a traffic agent’s impounding a vehicle driven by a Chesed volunteer who was transporting two patients for cancer treatment at a Manhattan hospital.
The agent falsely wrote in a summons that the women, both from Boro Park, had called a
dispatcher and were then seen paying the volunteer, Yeshaya Liebowitz of Boro Park. Car services, defined as any car which must be ordered in advance and whose drivers are paid, must be registered with the TLC.
But early in the afternoon, Liebowitz’s car was returned along with an apology. In a statement, Assemblyman Dov Hikind said that the TLC was scheduling a meeting with him to learn more about the extensive volunteer transportation system in the Jewish community and to update protocol for the future.
In an interview with Hamodia on Monday, Liebowitz said that he was driving the two passengers at about 8:30 a.m., one to NYU and the other to Cornell, when his car was pulled over by a traffic agent near a cemetery leading onto the highway.
“The agent ordered us out of car for being an unlicensed vehicle,” said Liebowitz, who owns a bleachers rental company and started volunteering for Chesed about five weeks ago.
“I tried to explain that Chesed is a [volunteer] organization, it is not hired, it wasn’t for money, but he didn’t want to listen,” he said.
The agent took the car and issued Liebowitz a summons which could have engendered a $2,000 fine. He left the three of them stranded on the roadside.
The agent wrote in the summons that he observed Liebowitz “picking up two females who called a dispatcher for a car to pick them up. I confirmed this with passengers before car came to pick them up about destintion [sic] and fare.”
All three witnesses at the scene denied that it was anything other than a routine chesed operation.
“When the car was impounded, the Chesed coordinator arrived right away,” Liebowitz said. “He immediately found another ride for the patients from a passing driver with whom he was familiar.”
Shortly afterward, condemnations poured in by city officials.
“The Taxi and Limousine Commission does important work and we want them to execute their jobs faithfully,” Hikind said, “but no one needs an over-zealous agent harassing innocent people and falsifying a summons. That is outrageous.”
“Clearly this TLC officer had an agenda — to impound cars and collect fines and fees,” said Councilman David Greenfield, adding that he was calling for an investigation. “This is truly a case of ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ This kind of behavior … is midas Sedom.”
“It is an outrage that the [TLC] treated an outstanding organization like Chesed with such malice and unfairness,” said state Sen. Simcha Felder. “Our community knows unequivocally that Chesed provides their service free of charge, their drivers volunteer their own time and the service Chesed provides is incredibly beneficial to so many.”
Chesed, along with other volunteer groups such as Chai Lifeline, have for years been giving free rides to those in need of rides to hospitals or doctor’s appointments.
According to a report in the Daily News on Friday, TLC agents are increasingly under pressure from their superiors to stop motorists under even the slightest suspicion that they may be offering illegal rides, and in some situations, even fabricate evidence.
At 2:30 p.m. on Monday, Liebowitz’s vehicle was returned, after he was forced to spend a couple of hours waiting for a release note from the TLC office
Hikind said that he was pleased “with how quickly the Taxi and Limousine Commission responded to my call to correct this incident.”
With reporting by Aliza Agress.