For a city that's relatively cosmopolitan and awash with money to fund cutting-edge conveniences, New York has always had antiquated taxi cab technology. Visitors are routinely shocked to discover that NYC cabs don't accept credit cards: New arrivals at JFK airport had better be prepared to fork over $50 in cash for a trip to Manhattan.
That's set to change soon, with taxi owners facing a Jan. 31, 2008, deadline to implement new state-of-the-art technology systems that will automate trip tracking, process credit cards, and feature a passenger information screen displaying news, sports and weather updates. But in the face of such a technological sea change, drivers are pushing back. A 48-hour strike by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance began Wednesday, temporarily thinning the city's cab fleet and drawing attention to driver complaints about the new systems' costs and potential privacy infringements.
The Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents around 9,000 of the city's 44,000 taxi drivers, has two main gripes and a host of minor ones about the new systems. Its top complaint concerns the costs they'll inflict on drivers. Credit card companies charge merchants a percentage transaction fee for their processing services, a cost that will be directly passed on to cab owners. Many New York taxi drivers lease their vehicles from fleet operators, paying a per-shift rental fee and keeping whatever revenue they earn above that. Fleet operators are allowed to deduct up to 5 percent of credit-card transaction totals to cover their processing fees, a cost that their drivers will have to absorb.
Drivers are also speaking out about the tracking technology that will be implemented in the new systems. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), which governs the city's 13,000 licensed yellow cabs (known as medallion taxis for the permits they require to operate), is requiring automated tracking of all metered trips, replacing the paper trip logs drivers currently maintain. The Taxi Workers Alliance argues that such tracking tools are the thin end of the Big Brother monitoring wedge.
"Basically, the Taxi and Limousine Commission wants to spy on drivers, and they want the drivers themselves to pay for it," Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the Taxi Workers Alliance, told local newspaper Newsday.
But technology integrators involved in the multi-year project say it's being misconstrued. Accepting credit cards will increase drivers' revenues enough to offset processing fees, and the new tracking technologies aren't being put to any nefarious uses, they argue.
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