The message from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance [NYTWA], a group representing New York Citys taxi drivers, is clear: Stop GPS [global positioning systems] in New York cabs or well strike.
The Alliance, which represents about 10,000 New York cabbies, held a press conference outside Penn Station August 23 to announce a city-wide 48-hour strike Wednesday, Sept. 5 through Thursday, Sept. 6 if the TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission] moves forward with its plans to mandate the installation technology package that includes GPS in all taxis.
"There are two issues. One is moral and constitutional, the other is financial," said NYTWA spokesman Bill Lindauer, in New York. "Under the system [mandated by TLC] drivers are tracked, theyre spied upon. Its like were under surveillance. Not only are we under surveillance we have to pay for the dubious privilege."
The New York City TLC, the governing body of New Yorks 13,000 taxis, passed a law last year that mandates "taxicab technology systems" be installed in all city cabs starting in October.
The system, part of TLCs technology enhancement initiative, includes four main components: A credit card/debit card payment system that will be installed in the back seats of cabs and enable passengers to pay with "signature cards" from Visa and MasterCard; a Passenger Information Monitor [PIM], essentially a TV screen that will be installed in the back seat to flash advertisements and entertainment to riders as well as a live map, facilitated by GPS, that will show passengers where they are; Trip Sheet Automation that uses AVL [Automatic Vehicle Locater] technology — the equivalent of GPS—to automatically collect data about each individual cab ride; and text messaging for the driver that will flash messages from TLC when the cab is stopped, or going very slowly, according to TLCs Web site.
Click here to read how GPS helped Knight Transportation keep track of all its trucks and trailers.
There also has to be wireless connectivity to enable the technology system.
While TLC is taking on the onus of integrating the systems from four separate vendors—Creative Mobile Technologies, Digital Dispatch, Verifone Transportation Systems, Taxi Technology—the taxi owners are responsible for installing and maintaining the systems.
On its Web site NYTWA, under a banner "Dont Let TLC Destroy Your Privacy and Income," says that the technology system will cost an average of $5,400 to install and $175 to maintain per month. TLC stipulates in its contract with drivers that owners will pay for the system implementations well as upkeep, according to NYTWAs Lindauer. The problem with passing the cost of technology on to owners is that about 60 percent of New Yorks cabs are driver owned or privately owned.
"The owner is supposed to pay for installation, but under the contracts—they are all in favor of the vendor—repairs and replacement costs are born by the owners," said Lindauer. "If some part of the system breaks down you are out of business. This is very untested technology."
While owners are said to be able to recoup some costs from the advertisements splashed on the monitors for passengers to read, Lindauer said that under TLCs contract, advertisements have to be displayed a minimum of 12 hours a day for owners to cash in.
"Twelve hours a day, every day of the year, the monitor has to be on. This doesnt allow [independent] drivers to take a day off," said Linauer, who said the contract also stipulates owners will be paid any profits on advertisements after the vendors costs are determined. "Who monitors the vendors costs," he said. "You can bet the rent money that youre not going to get anything for the ads."
To abort the strike NYTWA is calling for TLC to scrap at least the GPS part of its technology initiative—credit card payments should also be optional, it believes. Drivers overriding concern is that their movements will be tracked, whether they are working or using their taxi for other purposes.
"GPS is a computer software which will be attached to the taxi meter and track the taxi. GPS will automatically tell the TLC where you were, at what time, how many fares/trips per shift, when youre off duty and how much money youve made," reads NYTWAs Web site.
Next Page: Drivers determined to strike.