Rebuilding your life after being convicted of a felony and incarcerated can be difficult. Finding a job is usually one of the first steps in reclaiming your life. Some industries such as finance and law enforcement are more sensitive about hiring someone with a felony conviction. It’s important to know yourself and what type of job you can adjust to and thrive in.
Driving for a rideshare company, taxicab, limousine, shuttle or chauffeur service can be an appealing line of work for someone trying to get back on their feet. Benefits include control over how much or how little you work, and your schedule can be flexible to accommodate other obligations such as school, job training or childcare. Another attractive aspect for many is the freedom of not having to answer to a boss constantly or be micromanaged.
Also, the barrier to entry is relatively low, compared to the earning ability driving can offer. Basic language skills and being able to operate a vehicle are the bare-bones requirements for a driving job.
If you live in New York City and are interested in driving passengers in any of these capacities, you will need to get a TLC license.
What is a TLC license?
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission is a regulatory body that licenses drivers and vehicles to transport passengers. They grant this privilege by administrating the process of giving TLC licenses, also known as a Universal License.
You can identify an approved vehicle by the TLC license plates affixed to the automobile.
Can a Felon get a TLC license?
Being a convicted felon will not automatically disqualify you from applying for a TLC license, but the process will be a bit more intensive for you.
You will need to submit a court disposition for any felony for which you’ve been convicted along with your TLC application. Also, specific conduct will prevent you from applying for a TLC license. These include operating a motor vehicle without a valid driver’s license or committing an offense while driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, i.e. Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI).
In addition, you will be banned from applying for a TLC license for one year if you have been found guilty of abuse, bribery, fraud, harassment, misrepresentation, physical force, possession of a weapon in a vehicle licensed by TLC, theft, use of physical force, positive results on a drug test and being involved in three or more accidents within a year.
If you do not disclose a felony on your application, but it comes up on your background check, it will be considered fraud and you could face punishment. Honesty is the best policy when applying for a job.
How do I apply for a TLC license?
There are several steps and fees to apply for a TLC license, all of which must be completed within 90 days of starting the application process.
The total fees can run between $600 and $700. These cover your three-year driver’s license, drug testing, fingerprinting and photos, 24 Hour Taxi Class, exam fee, Wheelchair Assistance Training and Defensive Driving Course. All fees are non-refundable, so be sure you are committed to this job path.
You must meet some basic qualifications to apply, these include being at least 19 years old, possess a valid DMV Chauffeur’s license – Class A, B, C or E. You must have a valid Social Security Number and have no unpaid fines or fees owed to TLC or the DMV. You cannot have more than 5 points on your license within fifteen months of your most recent violation.
If you don’t have a chauffeur license, you can upgrade your current New York State license. A chauffeur class license allows you to operate any vehicle in class D, which includes for-hire vehicles carrying up to 14 passengers, and vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating up to 26,000 pounds.
Next, you will need to take a TLC driving course. This in-person course covers defensive driving and traffic laws.
TLC will want to make sure you are physically fit enough to operate a vehicle and be responsible for passengers. A medical exam is in order, and requirements state that the applicant must be “fit to operate a vehicle safely.” You can take a copy of the TLC Medical Exam Report, available here, to your healthcare provider. It’s a very simple document, simply asking your provider to check a box saying that yes, you are medically able to drive a TLC vehicle, or no, you are not medically able to drive a TLC vehicle.
You will need these documents to complete your application: Social Security card, copy of your driver’s license, which you just upgraded to a chauffeur license, and your Medical Certification Form – New Driver Applicant.
Before submitting your application, make sure you have paid all parking and traffic tickets. Any outstanding fees will stall your application.
Once you have all of that together, you will be prepared to submit your TLC application. The application fee is non-refundable, even if your application is not approved.
You will now need to take a wheelchair class and a 24-hour TLC Driver’s Education course and pass the exam. The exam consists of 80 multiple choice questions. You must score 70% or higher to pass. If you do not pass the exam on the first try, you will be required to pay the exam fee every time you retake the test.
The wheelchair class will teach you how to use a wheelchair accessible vehicle and help you stay in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After completion, you will add the documentation from these courses to your TLC application.
You will also need to watch a ten-minute video, located on the TLC website, on Sex Trafficking Awareness. Unfortunately, many sex traffickers use taxi’s, limousines, black car services and ride-shares to transport victims to and from clients. This video will help you spot potential victims and learn what to do if you suspect sex trafficking.
The final steps will be to schedule a drug test and fingerprinting through TLC’s designated vendors. TLC has contracted with LabCorp for drug testing and IdentoGo for photos and fingerprinting. Providing your drug test is clean and your background check comes back approved, now you will wait for your license to arrive in the mail. Your license should show up within a few weeks of passing your taxi school exam.
Now you are licensed to drive passengers. This is all you will need if you are using a vehicle from a taxi or limousine company or one provided by a rideshare such as Uber. If you’re planning to drive your own vehicle, you’ve got some more steps.
Licensing a Vehicle
The TLC has different requirements for the type of vehicle class it licenses. For example, they make a distinction between black car, livery (shuttle service) and taxi. Most rideshare companies fall under the black car category. The requirement for this class of vehicle includes being 7 model years old or newer. Keep in mind, most car companies put out their models a year in advance, so for example, a 2013 Honda Accord really came out in 2012.
You’ll also need to designate a TLC dispatch base and get a “base letter” which states your intention to affiliate with that base. If you’re driving for a rideshare or a taxicab company, they will be able to provide this letter.
You’ll also need to upgrade your insurance and have a copy of your coverage, usually in the form of a declaration page. If your vehicle seats eight people or fewer (not including the driver), you’ll need commercial liability insurance, minimum limit of $300,000 per accident bodily injury cap, $200,000 in no-fault coverage, $100,000 per person and $10,000 in property damage liability.
When you’ve collected these documents, you can prepare and submit a TLC vehicle license application. You can do this online or in person. Once approved, you will be issued what’s known as a plate letter. You can take this letter to the DMV to get your official TLC license plates for your vehicle.
Once you have your new plates, you will need to schedule an inspection unless your car is new with less than 500 miles on it.
Now you’re ready to go out and make some money. Most drivers rely on tips for a portion of their driving income. Making sure you and your vehicle are clean and pleasant, and you are on time and courteous can go a long way.