Today’s news:

Legal Van Owners Want Unlicensed Vans Off the Street

The flood of illegal vans on Flatbush and Utica avenues is making it increasingly difficult for the legal van operators to stay in business, and is also endangering community residents.

That, at least, is the contention of Sulaiman Haqq, the president of the Brooklyn Van Industry Association, a new organization that represents van company owners, and the owner of Brooklyn Van Lines.

Haqq told members of Community Board 17, gathered at Winthrop Intermediate School, 905 Winthrop Street, for their October meeting that the plethora of illegal vans was “a big problem for the community,” as well as for licensed van owners, who cannot compete with operators who do not have the same overhead.

In addition, Haqq contended, enforcement that was once intense has petered out in the past several years, except within the area of the 63rd Precinct, which is at the southern end of Flatbush Avenue.

“We need the same thing to happen” further north in other precincts, including the 70th and the 67th, Haqq asserted.

In a subsequent interview, Haqq elaborated on the problems that the legal van drivers and community residents face because of the illegal vans.

For residents, he said, a major issue revolves around safety. Many of the illegal operators, Haqq contended, don’t have adequate insurance; some, he added, don’t even have driver’s licenses. While they may be able to offer lower fares, Haqq added, it is because they spend a great deal less to operate.

This is the crux of the problem with which the legal van operators -- who have been allowed to operate since 1997 with significant restrictions on where they can discharge and pick up passengers -- must contend.

Indeed, as enforcement has diminished, the level of business enjoyed by the licensed operators has eroded, Haqq said, because of the illegal operators who undercut them, and who see no reason to become licensed since they perceive that licensed vans that stop where they are not allowed to (a common event, Haqq conceded) will be treated the same when stopped by enforcement authorities as the illegal vans.

Haqq estimated that between “90 and 95 percent of van operators were within the law, till 2002,” when enforcement diminished. But, he said, at this point, “About 95 percent of the vans that operate along Flatbush and Utica Avenues are illegally operated. You can count the legal vans on two hands. We need the enforcement authorities to act in our interest and protect the interests of the traveling public and motorists.”

What’s the difference in cost for the operators? Haqq estimated that it takes between $30,000 and $35,000 a year to operate a legal van, twice what it costs the illegal operators, he said And, that doesn’t count the expense of summonses, often issued to legal vans for picking up or dropping off passengers at undesignated locations.

While, Haqq said, the legal van operators can deal with that, for the time being, as the cost of doing business, he asserted that the legal operators get far more summonses than the illegal ones.

In 2005, according to Haqq, “8,000 summons were issued by law enforcement officers to van operators in Brooklyn. Authorized van operators were the recipients of 7,200 and the remaining 800 were issued to unauthorized van operators. When the law is unjust or applied indiscriminately, it gives legitimacy to illegal activity,” he contended.

Contacted for comment,Deputy Inspector Ralph Monteforte, the 70th Precinct’s commanding officer, said that, in the 70th Precinct, “Illegal livery drivers are summonsed on committed violations.”

Noting that, “The precinct is concerned about any illegal activity that goes on in the 70th Precinct,” he noted that, with respect to the vans, “The real concern is illegal liveries without licenses or insurance. Those are the ones we target. If warranted, a summons, confiscation or arrest will be made, depending on the circumstances.”

But, that’s not the only issue, Monteforte said. Another is, “The traffic congestion and flow of traffic on Flatbush Avenue, which is one of the major arteries for people to get from one side of Brooklyn to the other.

“Some of the vans double park, which creates traffic conditions which could possibly create accidents which could possible turn into people getting injured,” he emphasized.

By press time, the commanding officer of the 67th Precinct could not be reached for comment.

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