By Marcus E. Howard
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City's taxi authority plans new rules for drivers that will impose tougher penalties for sexually charged comments and contact with passengers amid growing concern about harassment.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission, which licenses about 150,000 drivers of yellow cabs and other for-hire vehicles such as Uber [UBER.UL] and Lyft, wants to curb unwanted communication and touching as the number of drivers has significantly grown.
The TLC said the regulations are meant to clear up any confusion about what defines sexual harassment as more drivers enter the industry.
The behavior is already prohibited under a broad definition against threats, harassment or abuse, but the commission's goal is clear up any confusion about what defines sexual harassment said TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg.
The agency plans to debate the proposal at an April 21 meeting.
"This rule amendment would provide clear definitions of sexual harassment and unwanted sexual contact, which would help TLC prosecution enforce its rules and protect our passengers," he said in a statement.
The new rules would also ban drivers from commenting on the appearance and gender of their passengers, as well as expressing desire to enter into any relationship.
Sexual harassment offenders, under the proposal, would face a $1,000 fine, three points on a driver's license and a 30-day suspension or revocation, while sexual contact would carry a $2,000 fine and a mandatory revocation.
The number of for-hire drivers in the city increased by 40 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to TLC data. Meanwhile, complaints of all kinds rose by roughly 23 percent, from 17,000 to about 21,000. Sexual harassment complaints made up less than 1 percent of those complaints.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents taxi drivers, did not respond to requests for comment on the proposal.
The New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault praised the TLC's actions, but prodded the commission to go even further.
"In order to really stop sexual assault and rape cases, drivers should receive more prevention training," said spokeswoman Min Um-Mandhyan.
Earlier this month, two New York City council members introduced legislation that would require all ride-hailing drivers to undergo sexual assault prevention training.
Ride-sharing services have been linked to several high-profile sex assault cases in the United States and abroad in recent years.
(Reporting by Marcus E. Howard; Editing by Scott Malone and Cynthia Osterman)