New York cabbies set strike date to protest GPS systems

Protest planned for Sept. 5-6; City says most cabbies will still drive

A group of 10,000 New York City taxi drivers has vowed to strike for two days, Sept. 5 and 6, primarily to protest GPS systems being installed in their cabs.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which has 10,000 cab drivers as members, has been threatening a strike> for several weeks, and set the strike dates Thursday in a New York City press conference.

Executive Director Bhairavi Desai called the strike "a fight for dignity" because of concerns the GPS systems could be used to locate drivers and invade their privacy, especially when they are off-duty.

But the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission has refuted the privacy concerns and Thursday Commissioner Matthew Daus predicted that the "vast majority" of drivers will continue to drive during the strike.

Daus said 44,000 licensed drivers are eligible to drive more than 13,000 taxicabs, but Desai responded that the number includes many part-time drivers or drivers who have not driven cabs for several years.

When asked whether the entire group of alliance members will strike, Desai responded in a telephone interview that "all 10,000 members of the alliance are registered to organize the strike." She said none of the alliance members would prevent other non-striking drivers from working, although she predicted there would be a large outpouring of support. "It's a cause dear to drivers' hearts," she said.

The commission issued a fact sheet about GPS and other technology improvements that noted the GPS data will be used to display a real-time map of the cab's location in the city, which would be useful to the taxi customer, and could be to help find a customer's lost property left in a cab. The only data the commission will collect is information regarding the pick-up and drop-off locations, number of passengers and the fare. The commission said this data is already collected on paper.

The commission has assigned four technology integrators to provision cabs with the GPS systems through next January, as well as related systems for collecting fares with credit cards and providing music, news updates and advertising. Meanwhile, the commission has contractually prohibited the integrators from sharing information on the off-duty location of a cab with the agency, the fact sheet says.

The alliance has said that even if the commission has set up such a prohibition, one of the technology integrators is active with taxi management groups. Both the commission and garages will have individual and aggregate data to use during negotiations over fares and the lease fees that drivers pay to companies to rent taxis, Desai claimed.

Desai said the GPS system's purpose is dubious. The GPS system will not be used for dispatching cabs to waiting passengers, which is how it is typically used in fleet management systems, Desai said.

A commission spokesman confirmed that GPS will not be used for dispatching cabs, since all 13,000 cabs are hailed by passengers in dense areas of New York. However, the commission fact sheet notes that two-way text messaging in the new technology will be used to notify cab drivers of business opportunities when taxis are needed in a certain area. Text messaging will also be used in the event of citywide emergencies.

Alliance drivers are also worried about collecting fares if a credit card is declined after they have finished a trip, and paying for credit card fees. But the commission said credit-card processing will increase the number of taxi users and has resulted in prompt payments to drivers in testing and in other cities where it used.

Daus said in a statement that two fare increases in 2004 and 2005 have increased wages for drivers by US$17 an hour, to an average of US$28 an hour. The fare increases were also tied to a city promise to provide technology improvements such as the GPS and credit-card payment systems. Riders "deserve to have that promise kept," Daus said. "The taxicab industry has never been healthier and safer."

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