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.
Ready to Strike
“TLCs GPS in taxis will NOT be able to navigate/give directions. A monitor with a control switch will be installed in the back seats, playing ads for the customer. If the passenger vandalizes the monitor, you will get the ticket. If the GPS breaks down, your meter will be shut OFF.”
But TWA spokesman Allan Fromberg said that the GPS technology is there to facilitate an electronic trip sheet—something that drivers already do before they begin a fare—and to help passengers find lost items.
“Right now the first thing a taxi driver does is write something on a clip board. That information will now be electronically transferred [to the system],” said Fromberg, in New York. “GPS is used to facilitate an electronic trip sheet and to facilitate the return of lost property without the [passengers knowledge] of a medallion number. Of our 88,000 passengers [that lost something last year] the majority dont know what cab they were in. With the vehicle location system well be able to triangulate—take a snap shot in time—of several cars in the vicinity of a drop off,” to narrow down which car the passenger was riding in when the item was lost.
At the same time, said Fromberg, the instant message portion of the system will be used to transmit information to drivers that they can use—things like a big party or convention letting out where people are likely looking for cab rides, or instructions in the event of an emergency.
The passenger information screen—the one on the back seat of the taxis—will stream a “plethora of content” to passengers, according to Fromberg. “First and foremost it takes place of all the stickers on back of the partition,” he said. “The map will be electronic and interactive, facilitated by GPS, so you can see where you are and where youve been, where youre going [while watching] news, sports, entertainment, you name it.”
In response to NYTWAs complaints, TLC has put together a fact sheet for media that spells out the myths versus facts surrounding the mandated technology system.
Situated near the top of the list is the “myth” that TLC invades privacy with GPS. The fact, according to TLC, is that TLC only collects the same data it has collected for decades via the paper trip sheets: pick-up, drop-off, number of passengers, and fare. Drivers are required to keep this information for three years and are mandated to keep it accessible to the TLC at all times, according to TLC, who said that “electronic trip sheets will remove many of the burdens of doing so from drivers and owners.”
Read one writers opinion about what its like riding in a taxi with a constant real-time display of video and information.
The electronic trip sheets will be used to analyze and assess the needs of the industry. The contracts with each of the technology vendors prohibit the vendors from sharing information on the off-duty location of a taxicab with the TLC.
At the same time, according to TLC, the automated data collection will eliminate the TLC summonses for missing or improper paper trip sheets. Since 2004, drivers have been summonsed over 45,000 times for missing or incorrect sheets.
NYTWAs Linauer believes the technology system mandated by TLC may go the way of the Talking Taxi, another TLC mandate that had celebrity recordings reminders passengers to buckle up when they entered a cab, and to look around for lost items before they left a cab.
“They were removed by public demand,” said Linauer, as was another electronic monitor that interrupted passenger cell phone calls.
The NYTWA is currently in negotiations with New York City Mayor Michael Bloombergs office to avert the strike, according to Linauer. But he doesnt see the issue going away unless GPS is also done away with.
“Certainly we have to be ready for [the strike],” said Linauer. “You dont want to inconvenience the public or have the drivers lose money, but Ive never seen drivers so enraged, so determined, as they are now. When we say a two-day strike, a lot of drivers want to strike for a week. These are people that barely eke out a subsistence living but theyre willing to sacrifice; theyre going to lose thousands on this system.”
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