Side-Hustle or Main Gig?

After getting my TLC license two summers ago, I’ve since adopted “rideshare driving” (which is basically giving out rides in a black car vs. a yellow cab) in New York City (NYC).  It’s become my main source of income, and hence I’m doing it full-time (40+ hours per week).  And depend completely upon the income I make doing “rideshare driving” to pay bills, pay down debt, and otherwise live.

It’s not abnormal for “rideshare drivers” in NYC to be driving full-time, because often the drivers have big overhead costs that are unique to this location.  For example, you can’t just use any old car for ridesharing in NYC.  The black car has to be registered with Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC), which requires an inspection, commercial insurance, etc.

The reason I bring all this up is because to operate a For-Hire Vehicle (FHV, which is basically a car that’s been inspected, plated, and given the okay by the TLC) is by getting a TLC license.  Which as I’ve discussed previously, requires quite a bit of upfront cost in terms of time, effort, and money.

So, now I’m gonna describe in much greater detail how to go about getting your TLC license.  And making that decision to become a “rideshare driver in NYC.”  Which is kind of like millennial speak for driving a non-yellow cab with a smartphone app.

Before I made the switch into the NYC market,   I thought only people with a NY state driver’s license could get a TLC license!  Way wrong.  It was the rule that only residents of the tri-state area (and PA) could apply; however, it’s since been changed to require a driver’s license from any state.  So my NJ driver’s license was more than acceptable in the eyes of NYC’s T&LC.

I’m gonna try to spill the beans on everything you’ll need to do BOTH before and after applying for the TLC license itself.  But first, it might help to review the T&LC’s checklist online.  If you can’t quite make heads or tails of their website, well, stay tuned because I’ll make it crystal clear for you right here.  Just follow the tasks outlined here, and check off the items from the T&LC’s checklist as you go.

You’ll be regularly checking the mailbox for your new license in no time.

Ok, so here we go!

Getting some money saved

First, you want to make sure that you’ve got $1,000 saved up for all the training courses, application fees, etc.  As well as the day-to-day costs associated with traveling to the T&LC office (when/if necessary), travel to the courses, parking, tickets, etc.

Don’t worry though, you’ll be netting $1k – $1.5k the first week of rideshare driving in NYC.  So you’re investment in obtaining a TLC license will quickly pay for itself.  Oh, and don’t forget the $399 security deposit for renting a TLC vehicle.  Which as I mentioned earlier is necessary for driving in the city.

If you don’t have $1,000 laying around?  Well, you need at least $300 right away to apply for the TLC license.  The requirements must be completed within 90 days of submitting the application.  So I would go ahead and apply.  As money comes in, you can knock out each of the requirements incrementally as I did.

The longest journey begins with a single step

Now, head on over the application portal.  It’s new, and it’s called the NYC T&LC’s Licenses, Applications, Renewals & Summonses (LARS).   You can reach it here.  And it looks just like this:

How to make rideshare driving in NYC your main gig.

The TLC is transitioning to a complete online system.  All applications must be filed online and all supporting documents must be submitted by email, mail, or fax.  So this is the best way to apply.  After you hit “Apply for New License,” you’ll be prompted to choose either Driver or Vehicle.

Choose Driver.  Then from the scroll-down box, choose TLC license (Medallion/For-Hire/Street hail).  This license will allow you to do ridesharing in NYC.  If you desire to operate a yellow cab, this is also the license for you; however, you’ll need an extra training course on operating the meter after all is said and done.

The process of rideshare driving in NYC.

The application takes about 20 min. and costs $252 (non-refundable). You’ll also be asked to watch the TLC Sex Trafficking Video, and attest that you’ve watched it.  They won’t know whether you have one way or another; however, be honest and watch it here.  It’s only 9 min long.

The TLC wants to ensure that drivers aren’t scrupulously making money on the side by assisting “pimps” or “johns” by transporting victims of sexual exploitation (i.e., hookers).  Obviously, use your head while working in the field.  And trust your gut.

Use the force, Luke

Next it’s time to set a course for Degobah to seek out the Jedi Master, Yoda.  Only he can guide in completing your training towards the path of light.  Or you can register for the 6-hour defensive driving course.  It’s cheap.  In fact, if you’re already working with Uber (like I was), you can set it up through them for free.

Just go to their website here.  Now they offer the Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) + the 6-hour course combo, it seems.  I’d definitely go that route, because you’ll save an extra $80 – $90 on the WAV course.  Another mandatory requirement for getting your TLC license.

Additional requirements in doing ridesharing in NYC.

You’ve just scheduled your 6-hour DD course and WAV combo, saving close to $100.  And will take the “medical exam” during this time too.  Don’t worry, all your clothes stay on for the medical exam.  It’s more just a vision/reflexes test.  Truly painless.

Related post:  How to Get Your TLC License

Okay, so those courses are done.  And you’ve just erased 3 points from your driver’s license.  Congratulations!  They’ll mail you an original copy of certification of completion in a couple weeks.  You need the original copy to give to the TLC, and probably want to make a copy or three for yourself too.  This can’t be any older than 6 months old.

You can find a list of TLC-approved defensive driving (6 hour) courses through the NY State DMV website, found here.

Drug test and physical exam

The third part of the application process is getting the “OK” from a physician.  You need to print out the medical form, and bring it to your primary health care provider.  You’ve probably been getting physicals every year since you were a young laddie.  So, one more won’t hurt you.  This one requires you to “turn your head and cough.”  But, again, you can go to your hometown doctor you’ve known since childhood. Make sure they sign AND stamp the form, saying you’re fit to be a cabbie.  

Then, as with everything else, make a photocopy or three.  And include the original with your application packet.  This is good for 30 days.

The medical form is included in your application.

Before you do anything else, you’ve got to complete some paperwork now.  The TLC will want to see a driving abstract from you, and your driver’s license needs to be Class “E.”  If you live in NY State, it needs to be switched from “D” to “E.”  If your driving license is from out of state, it probably is already equivalent to a class E.   That was the situation for me, so you’re probably fine.  Just look at the back of your license to be sure.

To get the driving abstract, you can order one online through the DMV’s website.  Or walk into your local DMV office and order one through them.  It costs $15, and is good for 30 days.  Make photocopies of everything while you’re waiting for the abstract and the defensive driving course certificate to arrive!

Also, your name on the driver’s license needs to match identically to that on your Social Security card.  If it doesn’t, make sure to have them change it at the DMV while you’re there.  It’ll save you an extra trip to the DMV down the road! (small fee may apply)

Time to pay them a visit

Once you’ve reached this point and you’ve got everything in hand, it’s time to head to the TLC office.  They’re located at 32-02 Queens Boulevard, Long Island City, NY.  Here’s what the office looks like (courtesy of Google Earth):

Except you’ve initiated the application process after July, 18th, 2016, and walk-ins are no longer accepted.  So the TLC is doing everything by mail, and electronically where applicable.  

Getting started on the TLC license process.

See? It’s right there in the application portal, located on the TLC’s LARS website.  Which you’re familiar with at this point of course.  Still, although you won’t be going to the office directly to submit the application, you will need to get fingerprinting done.  When I submitted my application, the fingerprinting machines weren’t working for whatever reason.  So I had to make an extra trip to the TLC office a couple weeks later.  

It sucks.  You get a ticket, sit in a plastic chair with Muhommed on one side, and Mahatmu or perhaps Dinesh next to you on the other.  Wait until your number gets called (better have games on your phone!), and bring all your paperwork up to the appropriate customer service representative.  They will instruct you on what to do, and chances are you’ll be ready to get fingerprinted.  Don’t forget to bring a receipt of your application fees, which you should’ve received after submitting everything online.

If you missing something, don’t argue with them!  It’ll make things worse, believe me.  Just be courteous, and follow their instructions.  Simple.  Fingers crossed, everything’s good to go;  now you wait again until you’re up next to be fingerprinted.  Go into the little room when called, get your fingers scanned electronically, and your photo taken.  This is the photo which will appear on your license.

They’ll ask you if it’s Ok?  If you don’t like it, just take another one right then and there.  Again, this is the picture that will be on your TLC license for the next three years.  So don’t screw it up. 🙂

Done.  Hopefully it went smoothly.  Time to walk down a couple blocks to the drug testing facility, LabCorp.  Depending on how long it took at the TLC office, you may want to grab a coffee and/or some water.  You’ll have to provide a urine sample after all.  Take a moment to orient yourself to this area, enjoy the weather, soak up some local culture.  This is New York City.  And once you’re rideshare driving here, you’ll be revisiting Queens, Brooklyn, and many other interesting and heavily urbanized areas.  

You don’t need an appointment at LabCorp. if you’re a new applicant.  Just bring the special receipt you’ve received from the TLC that has your hack number on it.  The cost is $26; hand the receptionist the paperwork, and your credit/debit card.  I waited in a small line until it was time to “go.”  Once it’s your turn, well, you know the drill.  Carefully pee into the little cup, and hand it back to the lab technician waiting outside.

You’re well on your way to obtaining your TLC license now.  Oh, just make sure your piss is clean!  If you’ve smoked anything you shouldn’t have been smoking or taken any other form of illegal drug(s), it’s an automatic denial of license.  A good rule of thumb is no drugs for three months prior to taking the piss test.

Last, but not least

The next and final step is to complete taxi school (24-hour course).  For whatever reason, I received my license before completing this course.  But I had to take the course, and pass the subsequent exam, before renewing my license (after one year).  The renewal is good for three years.  

Related post:  When Getting TLC License: The 24-hour course?

I’m not gonna go too in depth on what the 24-hour course is like, because I’ve written an entirely separate post about it.  I took it at Hanac Taxi School, in Long Island City; however, there are many other locations that offer this service too.  According to the TLC website:

You must file an application with the TLC before registering for the exam. You will not be allowed to take the exam if you do not submit an application to the TLC.

You must take and pass the final exam on a computer with a score of 70% or higher at the same school the course was taken. This means you must answer 56 out of 80 questions correctly in order to pass. You will be allowed to take the exam as many times as needed to pass during the ninety (90) day application period.

The school will notify the TLC when you have completed the course and passed the final exam.

Obviously by now you’re 85% done with the whole application process.  Just need to take the course, and pass the final exam.  It’s mostly common sense.  Tip: save all the map questions for the end.  You can skip any question and come back to it later, because the test is now being administered electronically.  Skip all the map questions initially.  Then use the map to knock them all out at once.  Like a boss.

You’ll be fine.  But if you’ve submitted everything, and the TLC has given you the okay without having you take the 24-hour course; you’ll be operating without knowledge of the TLC rules when your license arrives.  That’s why I suggest taking the course and exam as part of the initial application process.  It will save you some money from learning the ropes of rideshare driving the hard way.  Which is by getting pulled over, and receiving summons and/or points.  

Here’s a .pdf of all the locations offering the course:  24-hour course providers.  

That’s it.  You’re all done; now you just play the waiting game.  Remember, everything has to be done within 90 days of applying for the TLC license online.  Honestly, I don’t know if they’ll make you take the 24-hour course or not before you accepting your application.  For me, I didn’t have to take it until  my “probi” license expired after one year.  Now I have a full, 3-year TLC license.  It takes a good five weeks to arrive by mail.  In the meantime, save up another $400 – $500 for security deposit on a FHV.  And don’t forget to sign up with Via.


TLC Driver Education (24-hour course providers) information was provided by OpenDataNYC.

I’m an aspiring personal finance blogger, and do ridesharing in the greater New York area. Reading, writing, and “fun creative” stuff are my passions; and I’m interested in the topics of saving, investing, and financial freedom.

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