New York cabbies strike over GPS units

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The Independent Online

The yellow taxi, a New York icon every bit as famous as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, was a little bit harder to come by in the city yesterday as furious drivers staged a strike to protest at plans to introduce new technology in the back of the cab.

The walk-out by one of the main drivers' unions was the second in as many months, and came as the city insisted it would press ahead with the introduction of new credit-card machines and a system for tracking cabs using global positioning system technology.

The credit-card machines – which are combined with a television screen showing news, maps and adverts – skim a processing fee that cabbies say amounts to a pay cut for the driver. The union also argues that sometimes the payment does not go through at all, leaving members with no recompense.

The GPS system is also an invasion of their privacy, according to Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the Taxi Workers Alliance. The union represents about a fifth of New York's 44,000 licensed drivers. "There are several dead zones throughout the city where the credit-card machine simply does not work," he said. "A passenger may swipe it and jump out of the cab, but then three minutes later the message comes on the screen that the credit card was declined. Who's going to compensate the drivers?"

New York's taxis carry about 240 million people a year and collect about $1.5bn (£740m) in fares. The city mandated the introduction of the new touch-screen technology back in 2004, when it agreed to a fare increase. The private companies that typically own the vehicles have to put in the $6,000 machines when the cab comes in for its annual service over the next year. A legal challenge by the union failed last month.

It appeared that yesterday's strike was less well-supported than the first stoppage last month, at least initially, and many cabs were still available. Drivers had been permitted by city authorities to jack up fares and take multiple passengers.

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