Cabs Are on Strike, but Are on the Street, Too
By JAMES BARRON
A strike called by a New York City taxi drivers' group over city plans for a high-tech video-and-fare system thinned the ranks of yellow cabs on the streets yesterday, producing frustrating waits on corners, long lines at the airports and angry exchanges over an ad-hoc fare system.
Union leaders and city officials differed over the effectiveness of the walkout. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which called the strike, maintained that 90 percent of drivers were idle yesterday. But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the figure was far lower.
Still, many would-be passengers spent more time with hands in the air, stuck in that eternal pose of big-city hopelessness. And at the airports, a five-minute wait for a cab stretched to half an hour at some terminals, with 25 people waiting in line, looking at their watches, wondering why they were suddenly going nowhere when the plane had been on time.
The city had introduced a zone-based fare structure during the planned two-day strike - the ride into Manhattan from Kennedy International Airport would be set at $45, for example - but according to anecdotes, at least, the plan seemed to sow more confusion than convenience. It permitted group rides, but some drivers were unaware of it and were uncertain how much to charge. That led to more than one instance of audible angry dialogue between passengers and drivers.
DRIVING a taxi in New York City can be a grueling, thankless job. It is also a unionless job. But on Wednesday, many of the city’s 44,000 licensed cabdrivers are planning to go on strike for 48 hours to protest the new global positioning systems being installed in the city’s 13,000 yellow cabs.
While the Taxi and Limousine Commission supports these devices and has mandated that they be up and running in the city’s entire fleet by January, many cabdrivers — myself included — see this new technology as one big expensive headache. Perhaps the commission should listen to cabdrivers before pushing a device that we’d be better off without.
The device has no navigational abilities. The monitor, which is set into the partition separating the driver from the passenger, cannot be seen or accessed from the front of the cab. It does not give directions or plot routes. All it does is keep track of where you are — both on- and off-duty — and this information is then stored in the commission’s databases.
Officials at the commission say the primary purpose of the devices is to track lost property and make sure cabbies aren’t taking passengers from point A to point B by way of point Z. Sadly, there are some bad cabdrivers out there who take visitors for a “ride,” but in reality, we have much more to fear from our passengers than they have to fear from us.
However, for me and many of my fellow drivers, privacy issues aside, it’s all about money. With prices ranging from around $3,250 to $4,000 to lease and install each unit, the initial costs alone are enough to drive some cabbies out of business. For private owner/operators, this could kill their year.
The costs continue to pile up after the devices are installed. The test drivers who already have the touch-screens have reported finding the monitors covered in spray paint, stickers, soda and scratches.
As Strike Looms, Mayor Vows to Install Taxi Devices
By GLENN COLLINS
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that the city would not back down in its determination to install credit card and video devices in city taxicabs despite a threatened two-day strike by a major cabdrivers' group.
"All they would be doing is hurting themselves," the mayor said of a planned 48-hour work stoppage by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, scheduled to begin at 5 a.m. tomorrow. "Hopefully, they won't want to sit there and let all the other taxi drivers have extra fares while they earn nothing."
Nevertheless, the mayor said he hoped that "cooler heads will prevail and that nobody will strike."
The alliance claims to represent more than 7,000 hack-license holders among more than 20,000 active cabbies. Bhairavi Desai, the group's executive director, said that 50 volunteers were out leafleting and talking to drivers yesterday at taxi stands, terminals and hotels.