Space Ramblings

The TAXI GPS Threat

A major cab drivers’ group is stepping up talk of a strike over the issue of new taxi technology. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which counts more than 8,400 members, will call for drivers to idle their cabs in September if city leaders don’t nix plans for a GPS system that the group fears could be used to track drivers’ movements, executive director Bhairavi Desai said Wednesday.

The touch-screen monitors will let passengers pay by credit card, check on news stories, map their taxi’s current location and look up restaurant and entertainment information. Taxi officials say the systems could boost ridership and drivers’ incomes by eliminating the need for cash, while sending drivers useful traffic tips and giving passengers a better chance of finding lost items. But the Taxi Workers Alliance opposes the GPS component, which the group sees as an invasion of drivers’ privacy. Drivers are generally independent contractors, not employees, Desai noted.

If they’re independent contractors, then they have nothing to worry about. Talking about invasion of privacy is silly, after all it’s the passengers who are in the taxi and taxi drivers should have nothing to hide while working. This is yet another attempt to upgrade taxi service, for better or worse, by going all 21st century. They did miss a beat by failing to add a component that would let passengers locate restaurants and plays and such using a google maps mashup. News stories aren’t nearly enough. Run promos for movies and Broadway plays. That would easily offset the cost through advertising alone.

Now a taxi driver strike would be funny if the city simply allowed car services to begin picking up passengers. Taxi drivers could kiss their medallion exclusivity goodbye. Right now all the fantastically expensive medallion program accomplishes is to allow people to buy up the medallions at huge prices and control and maintain a large taxi fleet composed of immigrants who barely speak English. Taxi medallions have not produced good service. They have not produced trained and efficient cabbies. There really is no reason not to jettison the medallions entirely and open up cab driving to anyone who passes a background check and extensive licensing and training exam. Now let them whine about GPS.

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