Monday, August 27, 2007

NYC Taxi Drivers Set to Strike Over Satellite Tracking

Taxi Workers Alliance Members May Curb Cabs In GPS-Privacy Debate
WCBS August 26, 2007
(CBS) NEW YORK After this month's transit meltdown, the last thing commuters want to deal with is a taxi strike that could have crippling effects on a city whose residents and tourists alike rely on the Taxi and Limousine Commission. A scary reality, however, is that such a strike could occur -- and in less than two weeks. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance -- which accounts for more than 8,000 city drivers -- is threatening to curb their cabs on Sept. 5 if the Taxi and Limousine Commission does not get rid of their GPS system, which the union says invades a driver's privacy.
The debate over a taxi strike, however, begins first among taxi drivers. There are two strong sides to this debate, with some drivers who say a strike is imminent, while others who say no way, no how. It all depends who you ask.
"We are ready to strike," Bhairavi Desai, co-founder and organizer of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, announced during a news conference.
Still, officials from the city's other major taxi union offers an entirely different response to the idea.
"There will be no strike. Read my lips: there will be no strike," said Fernando Mateo of the New York Federation of Taxi Drivers.
The two largest taxi driver associations are in total disagreement. The TWA claims 10,000 members and is calling for the citywide strike, while the FTD says its near-7,000 members will stay behind the wheel.
"When we need to fight, we fight. When we need to say thank you, we say thank you. But we don't have to be radicals about privacy in a cab. If you want privacy, you don't drive a cab," says Mateo.
The issue over a driver's privacy is the driving issue in the debate, with a driver's location being tracked no matter where he or she goes.
"The Taxi & Limousine Commission wants to spy on drivers and they want drivers to pay for it," argues Desai.
Both sides agree the TLC uses satellite GPS technology to track everywhere a taxi cab goes and keeps a log of that information. The dispute is over how that information will be used and just who will have access to it.
Mateo says it's understandable that the taxis are fitted with the technology and adds it's even advantageous to each driver. "It indicates where you're located, you can see where you're going," he says.
But Desai says there is a different motive for the TLC to install the satellite. "They will use this information to decide on drivers' incomes," she says.
Sources within the TLC and individual taxi drivers tell CBS 2 that the GPS fears have nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with money. Many drivers fear the IRS will use the data to audit drivers and alert the INS about illegal immigrants driving cabs.
That is why many drivers are willing to strike, creating, as Desai put it, what could be a nightmare for New Yorkers: "No taxis in New York City."
All issues could be avoided, of course, if both sides can reach a resolution.
In March, the TWA held a demonstration trying to prevent GPS from being installed in cabs.