Thursday, September 06, 2007


There's a taxi strike going on in New York right now. Some cabbies are indeed working, but there are plenty who are off the streets until tomorrow at 5:00 AM. I hope, at the very least, that all the media attention helps our cause a tiny bit.

I'm reprinting here the op-ed I wrote that was published in the City section of last Sunday's New York Times.

September 2, 2007
Op-Ed Contributor

An Unwanted Passenger
By Melissa Plaut

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.

Even without vandalism, the technology is likely to break down. New computers are often plagued with bugs, and sometimes, as every cellphone user knows, satellites can lose their signals. Because these G.P.S. devices will be linked to the taximeters, when the screen is vandalized, the computer breaks down or the satellite connection is unavailable, the meter won’t work. The driver will be forced to go off-duty and bring the car in for repairs. In a business where lost time equals lost pay, this is unacceptable.

One fleet already using the system recently lost its satellite signal, putting about 250 cabs out of commission for nearly three hours until the problem was resolved. This translated not only into fewer available cabs on the streets, but also lower incomes for those already beleaguered cabbies.

For drivers like me who lease our cabs from privately owned fleets, there isn’t the burden of paying for installation or repairs upfront, but the costs may still be passed on to us in the form of “surcharges” or “tax fees.” However the extra costs will be labeled, it boils down to the same thing: our expenses go up; our income goes down.

The only potential benefit for passengers I can see in these machines is the credit card slide. Matthew Daus, chairman of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, is happy to tell anyone who will listen that our tips are better as a result of this, but I beg to differ. Drivers have to pay a hefty 5 percent transaction fee while most stores and restaurants are charged an average base rate of about 2 percent. So those “bigger tips,” if they exist at all, simply don’t cover the costs. And since most cabs already have the ability to take credit cards, what’s the point of installing a whole new system?

The bottom line is, once we’ve installed the G.P.S. device, paid for its maintenance, ponied up for repairs and shelled out the transaction fees, what most cabbies will be left with is, in effect, a pay cut. The fare increase in 2004 just barely caught our incomes up with inflation, bringing us to just this side of a livable wage. We should not have to pay that back now.

By turning a deaf ear to the opinions and expertise of taxi drivers, the commission has approved a design for an impractical and costly device that ultimately does not provide any useful “service enhancements” to the public. So when cabdrivers go on strike this week, we can only hope that New Yorkers will stand with us in solidarity.

There are plenty of other reasons and arguments that I didn't have the room to include. Yesterday's Metro NY newspaper was one of only a few to hint at the relationship between the companies providing the systems and the Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC):
One of the firms providing the devices is owned by Ron Sherman, president of an association of garage owners. That firm’s vice president is Jed Appelbaum, a former TLC commissioner.
Hmph. Interesting.

Another NYC cabbie blogger, G.S. over at Cabs Are For Kissing, has this to say, among other things:
I think it was in 1979 that a city ordinance turned all taxi drivers into "independent contractors". This meant that if you worked out of a fleet garage you were no longer an employee, you were "self-employed" (and the fleets were no longer responsible for any benefits). Instead of paying drivers by percentages of the money they booked plus tips, the drivers now had to pay the garage a leasing fee for the use of the taxi for 12 hours, plus pay for the gas. There was no cap set on what the garages could charge (until recently, which is a good thing), so the only limit the garage owners had on their fees was by attrition of drivers. Busy nights when there were more drivers available meant higher leasing fees. And a cab driver found himself working six hours before breaking even.

Now here is the part that I consider to be a fundamental injustice: although the city made all taxi drivers "independent contractors" it retained the right to tell us what we can charge for our services. This is a blatant hypocrisy. How can anyone be an independent contractor when he can't charge what the market will bear for his services? How "independent" is that?

So it's phony. Taxi drivers are not independent contractors at all. We are actually employees who get no benefits.

But wait. It gets worse.

One would think that if the city government is going to create a taxi system that is unorganizable and then is going to mandate what we can charge for our services, a sense of fair play would ensure that the drivers are able to make a decent living. And be very diligent in increasing the rate of fare at timely intervals to keep up with inflation.

But the history over the last 29 years shows that the opposite is the case. We went from 1980 to 1987 (7 years) without a rate increase. We went from 1990 to 1996 (six years) without a rate increase. We went from 1996 to 2004 (8 years) without a rate increase. And during those years I was told very frequently by passengers in my cab that taxis in New York are much cheaper than in any other city they travelled to, reports that were verified repeatedly through all these years by industry journals and the NY Times.

What the city keeps saying is that we have to pay the 2004 rate increase back now. Apparently they only gave it to us to pay for these stupid, useless machines that we don't want.

This new technology could've been really cool, but it is being implemented in the worst and most expensive way. A good navigational GPS device costs about $500. Why do we have to pay $4000 for a system that doesn't even help us find our way when we're lost?

The taxi industry in New York is so fucked up, it's depressing. But the saddest thing of all, in my opinion, is discovering just how much the city disdains its cab drivers. Mayor Bloomberg talks about us with the utmost condescension, like we're all simple fools who know not what we do. It's offensive.

Rather than paying attention to what we have to say, he's been painting this work stoppage as our effort to "hurt" the city and its residents. We are not terrorists -- though sometimes we may drive like we are! No, rather, we are people who work under third-world sweatshop conditions in one of the richest, most sophisticated cities on the planet. But our billionaire mayor has always held a low opinion of New York's working people, so why should we expect any support from him now?

If the city displayed any faith in us at all and actually tried to improve our working conditions, our morale -- and our driving -- would also improve, and then there would be no need for such derision and no need for a strike.


Anonymous said...

I saw you on the news here in Chicago this morning :) Hopefully the book is selling well, and you can quit driving!!!

Anonymous said...

On Good Day NY this morning, they also suggested that this was a way for the City to start the congestion pricing plan, with the way the fares are being charged by the cabs who are not particpating in the strike.

Dino aka Katy said...

oh wow I hope the strike will help

Anonymous said...

I once took a cab trip from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Macys that rivaled Bruce Willis' race through the Park in DH3. After barreling along at 60mph most of the way, we finished by squeezing inbetween two merging buses at high speed with inches to spare. It was the best thrill ride I have ever taken, better than any amusement park ride imaginable, and consequently worth every penny. For the love of Mike, Mayor Mike: don't mess up a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update. Can't wait to hear from you in October!

Anonymous said...

The "billionaire mayor" has shown more concern for working people than a lot of "thousandaire mayors" I can remember.

If people have an instinctive disdain for cabbies, maybe you (as a class, not MP, who seems nice and thoughtful) should rethink your behavior on the streets?

Pull over for fares in a way that actually lets other traffic by?

Spend a few moments out of the day with your horn *not* sounding?

Get off the f#@king phone?

Allow yourself to actually miss a light instead of taking my strollers-and-moms residential block at 65MPH?

Just a thought. Nah, I must be an extremist curmudgeon. You're all doing just fine. Flame on, proud cabbies.

Aussie Cabbie said...

Gee you certianly have it tough over there....I've driven taxis for 30 years here in Northern Queensland Australia.......We've had GPS for a number of years now and I have to say I don't mind working with it...However the drivers here don't pay for the maintance of the GPS as it's a part of the computer dispatch system we use....Also we don't lease taxis we're paid a percentage...normally 50% of whatever the taxi takes when we're driving it...The owner pays all operating expenses such as fuel etc.... The only drivers who will have a problem longterm with GPS are that minority who do the wrong thing...But it would seem that you work differantly there...I hope you get the problems sorted out...Love the Blog by the way :)

Gina R said...

Thank you for posting these explanations. The media has been woefully inept at explaining exactly what is the issue. These GPS systems are a high tech novelty item for the passenger, essentially. Someone somewhere got a nice fat deal, and the cab drivers are getting another raw deal. That's what it seems to me.

PS. Can't wait to buy your book when I get paid.

The Pirate said...

Hope the strike does some good for you guys, MP. Cabbies in general get a bum rap, in my opinion. However, this new twist is obviously a total screw-job, with the city wanting their cake and eating it, too. Wish you guys all the best!!

Anonymous said...

Ha! Mayor Mike's biggest concern is big business and he will kick everyone else to the curb if they get in the way of his development plans.

Eric said...

Watching this with interest down in Charleston, SC. So far, the city council isn't considering this kind of stuff. Though I've noticed, every time the council approves a fare increase (twice in the 10 years I've been driving cabs) it always asks for more regulatory powers and a bunch of new laws. What's up with that?

Troy Bierkortte said...

It kills me to see the city over-regulate the taxicab business the way it does and always to the detriment of the drivers. Maybe they should start ticketing all the livery cars that are taking street hails without a medallion. That would do more to protect the consumer than this stupid GPS.

Bought the book. Love the book.

Spunky Monkey said...

I went 'nextblog'-ing and I found you! And very glad I did.
Congratulations on the book! And greetings from India.

Nan Patience said...

TLC, what a racket. Good luck with the strike. It's great that you're using your celebrity to help cabbies out.

Janelle_ryleigh said...

MP I pray your words are heard! By the TLC; and anyone else who can help your cause! I'm enjoying your book immensely - finally got a copy yesterday! Can you believe that - it took up till the 5th of September for it to make it to my nearest bookstore? Anyway, I wish you a great day, and best of luck....keep us posted (I know you will) & I'll keep you in the light! Peace, Janelle

Rafael said...

I'm an owner operator in Austin, TX. My cab has a GPS device in it as part of the dispatch system. It provides me with no navigation information whatsoever. That I am aware of, I pay no extra money for the GPS device. The GPS device monitors my position, but that information is apparently used for dispatching trips and for auditing routes whenever there is a complaint. It has no interface that neither I nor my passengers can access. I'm sure of there was a screen of some kind in the back some drunk college kid would break it and I'd have to pay for a replacement. The joy, the rapture of driving a cab.

Gill said...

I drive a cab as well. It seems like 48 hours of strike will not get us what we want. The city will learn who and what cabbies are only if all 100% went on strike together for 5 business days. Too bad our union sucks.

Anonymous said...

That's so typical for politics. The Taxi commission is going to great lengths to put in the GPS system to catch the few cabbies who take the long way around. Of course it will catch a driver who takes an alternate route because the direct route is blocked for an accident or shut down for road repair. Wait till you get called in and try to explain that. What the Taxi commission should be doing is helping all New Yorkers by getting better fuel economy, cleaner air, alternate fuels, more practical vehicles, and reduced congestion. But that's too practical, and one thing a politician is NOT is practical.

ileen said...

I was on the subway ten times (14 trains total) during the two days of the taxi strike. They didn't seem any more crowded that usual. The streets seemed less congested with so few cabs on the streets, so I don't think there were significantly more cars in town. What did all the normal taxi passengers do for these two days? Take the bus? Walk? Stay home? Inquiring minds want to know.

jmcd said...

Reaction of a fellow Hack about the Scabbies of New York
On WBAI 99.5 FM this Sat reaction on the the Strike from 1:30 to 3pm Listen live on

4min said...

Good, I'm happy to see this great Op-Ed on the blog! And that Cabs are for kissing is a real nice blog too.

As for that anonymous comment about finally quiting now that your book is published.. some people will never understand true happiness, ahh to drive a cab!

Experienced owner/driver said...

You hit the nail right on the head..

But, the riding public who has been very good to us shouldn't have been punished....The answer is go to Court...And from what I'm hearing that is where this whole thing may wind up!

camalich said...


I'm a taxi driver from far away (Spain) and we started using the GPS dispatching system in january 07. Most of us here do not like it as we have to drive more miles to come out with the same money compared to the old system (something like CB).
I hope the strike takes you anywhere.

Astoria resident said...

Troy Bierkortte wrote:
Maybe they should start ticketing all the livery cars that are taking street hails without a medallion. That would do more to protect the consumer than this stupid GPS.

Here in Queens, yellow cabs are a rare sight (except when they're parked on the street overnight), so livery drivers don't seem to be taking fares away from yellow cab drivers. As for consumers getting ripped off, the obvious solution is to agree on the fare before closing the car door. Even if you forget to do that, you can pay the driver less that what he asks for — what's he gonna do, call the police? Though that might not be a good idea if you get dropped off at your home or workplace, 'cuz then he'll know where you live/work.

Stephen said...

It's surprising to me that after all that ranting and raving, your conclusion is, "Make better decisions, City of New York!" rather than "Get the hell out of my cab, City of New York!" The fact of the matter is, that in the longterm, top-down organizations like this -- sort of like the Soviet Union, eh, where they set your wages, tell you what equipment to use, and only allow a certain amount of people to perform each job? -- never work. What you SHOULD be advocating is for the city to give up entirely in regulating taxi cabs. No more medallions, no more set prices, no more no-smoking-in-the-cabs edicts, etc. It might be a little chaotic for the first few days, but after a while things will start to settle down. Companies or associations will form, and consumers will have more choice -- do I take this cheaper, unrecognizable brand, or do I get in that nice Lincoln Towncar that I know will be driven by someone nice a polite, for a little extra money? Just imagine the possibilities! But what about tourists, you ask?? Well, given the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans (and foreigners in America), I'll bet it wouldn't take long for a company geared towards Japanese or Russian tourists to pop up. Drivers would be valued for their linguistic skills, driving skills, politeness, and grooming standards, rather than just all be forced to serve the exact same role.

As it is now, consumers and producers (i.e., cabbies) have no choice. Get in a cab, take a gamble on the quality of the driver (since there are no real identifying marks on them), and pay the same rate, regardless.

I asked this question a while ago and no one seemed to be able to answer it: what about the taxi industry makes it necessary to regulate so intensely? Not even our food, medical care, and housing are managed so heavily by a government organization! the way, it really hurts me to see the quality of thoughts in these comments. In the last entry, you were all bemoaning the existence of non-licensed cabs, and in this entry, it's all, down with the TLC! One writer even had the gall to say that rather than impose arbitrary restrictions on what must be in a cab, the TLC harder to impose arbitrary restrictions on who can drive a cab! Hasn't ANYONE here taken an introductory economics course?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

The TLC claims that the gps systems will be used to help the lost and
found by sending a text message to the drivers when something is
reported. This causes alot of problems for the driver. There is a new
way for lost and found items to be returned, features
a online lost and found which users can post message that will be
broadcasted. People can find there items or owners of items they found

Anonymous said...

Earlier this month I took a cab trip from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to web design company headquaters that rivaled Bruce Willis' race through the Park in DH3. After barreling along at 60mph most of the way, we finished by squeezing inbetween two merging buses at high speed with inches to spare. It was the best thrill ride I have ever taken, better than any amusement park ride imaginable, and consequently worth every penny.

Anonymous said...

Didn't you already agree to take the GPS system? The NY Times says that the taxi drivers all agreed to install the GPS in return for the most recent fare increase.

another anonymous said...

Didn't you already agree to take the GPS system? The NY Times says that the taxi drivers all agreed to install the GPS in return for the most recent fare increase.

From what I understand, adjustments in the rates yellow cabs are allowed to charge aren't the result of negotiations, but are just handed down by the powers that be. I imagine that when the last increase was handed down however many years or months ago, the proviso that it was in exchange for the installations of these units was just something the powers that be said. Should those drivers and cab owners who are opposed to these units offer to "give back" the increase? That might be an interesting tactic to follow up the strike.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe all the crap you cabbies in NYC take from the City. I drive a cab in a city of one-hundred thousand population and make the same kind of money that you make and don't have any of the crap you have.

Rohit said...

Good luck Melissa - hope you get what you want while continuing driving your cab in NYC. As someone said, it will be great if your contribution highlights real issues and help in resolving it for you and your fellow brethren. Your account of their plight is factual and complete unlike the ones from so called big name journalists of big media companies.

You have my vote if you were to go against our Mayor in an election even though he seems to have done much for the city. :-) Too bad he can't stand for another term.

torchO said...


sergica said...

strike city....

Web Designing & Development said...

Anyway we can expect a full fledged GPS Devices for cabs in the near future.


Sai Bpo Services (UK) Ltd said...

nice post...

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BPO Service said...

Yes there should some authentic and full fledged GPS system for cabs.

Dominic said...

"Yes there should some authentic and full fledged GPS system for cabs."

I agree, or at least i hope they will do it, would really help alot.

taxi cabs Oakland said...

Over the issue of the installation of the global positioning system device, we can only hope that the union of drivers and the government settle for terms and agreement that will benefit not only both parties but the affected local passengers as well.

Austin taxi cabs said...

For those who are just trying to make a decent living for their families, the right treatment and compensation should be given and this goes for cab drivers as well. I do hope that this matter will be resolved amicably because taxis are very needed especially in busy cities.

Cab in Irving said...

The benefits should be fair for all the taxi driver. They must to listen their opinion to avoid any inconvenience on the street for commuters. Many people relies on taxi for fast and easy ways to get home. I hope this issues must solve.