NYC taxi drivers prepare to strike

NEW YORK — Yellow taxicab drivers here are prepared to strike if the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) continues to refuse to negotiate with them about sweeping changes they are imposing on the city’s 44,000 drivers. The TLC, backed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is mandating that all of the city’s some 13,000 yellow medallion taxicabs be equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) hardware.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union with 10,000 member-drivers, held a press conference last week announcing that cab drivers are prepared to strike for 48 hours beginning at 5 a.m., Sept. 5, unless the TLC agrees to negotiate a settlement that addresses drivers’ concerns about the system. In February, the organization became a member of the New York City Central Labor Council, which represents 400 unions in the city.

The GPS system will track all taxi trips and fares. The taximeter will not operate unless the GPS works, meaning drivers cannot work if the system is inoperative. Plus, taxis will be tracked whether they are working or not, since the GPS beeps incessantly if it is not engaged while driving.

The system will effectively allow the TLC to monitor taxi patterns and fares in order to adjust fares and fees, but not likely to support drivers. There is no navigation feature that would make the GPS useful for finding a destination or dispatching cabs.

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the Taxi Worker Alliance, said at a press conference, “We do not understand why the TLC is mandating an unnecessary luxury technology on cabs.”

The several thousand dollar cost for installing the GPS will be passed on to drivers, and 5 percent of every fare will go to the taxi garages as a processing fee.

Suspiciously, the contract to provide the GPS units to the city was awarded to Ron Sherman, head of the Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, the garage owners’ association.

Drivers are also concerned about privacy intrusion from the GPS. One driver at the press conference held a sign reading, “GPS tracks passengers too!”

New York taxi drivers work long hours under difficult working conditions, often being stiffed for fares, facing safety issues and paying high lease rates to the TLC, medallion owners and garages. High gas costs also dig into cab drivers’ earnings. Few drivers actually own medallions and depend on leasing medallions or renting cars from garages at rates upward of $100 per day.

Taxi workers are asking passengers to support them. They hope to avoid a strike by reaching a resolution with the TLC. One driver, Thiam Mor, asked for passengers to “Talk to the city. Talk to the mayor. Call the TLC and ask them to negotiate a resolution to this issue.”

If drivers go out next week, it would be the first taxi strike in the city since their 24-hour work stoppage in 1998.

ldellapiana @cpusa.org