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NYC cabbie group starts 2-day strike

A group of taxi drivers launched a two-day strike Wednesday, right at the start of the New York Fashion Week and amid the U.S. Open tennis tournament, over what the cabbies consider intrusive new technology requirements.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A group of taxi drivers launched a two-day strike Wednesday, right at the start of the New York Fashion Week and amid the U.S. Open tennis tournament, over what the cabbies consider intrusive new technology requirements.

The executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Bhairavi Desai, said it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the city’s 13,000 taxis would be idled during the strike.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg downplayed the likelihood of widespread disruption, but the city still allowed taxis to pick up multiple separate passengers, and the transit system added buses on some airport routes. Normally, taxi drivers are allowed to pick up only one passenger or group of passengers at a time.

The alliance called the strike in the nation’s largest city to protest new rules requiring all cabs to have global positioning systems and touch-screen monitors that will let passengers pay by credit card. Some cabbies fear the GPS systems could be used to track their movements and that they could get stuck paying hefty fees for credit card processing.

“The overwhelming majority of drivers are against this system, and there are serious setbacks this system is causing drivers,” Desai said early Wednesday. She said the drivers’ group hoped the strike would persuade city officials to back off the requirement.

One-fifth of city cab drivers?
The alliance claims to represent about one-fifth of the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s 44,000 licensed drivers, but its leaders predicted a larger number of drivers would join in. However, several other groups that represent thousands of city cab drivers released statements opposing the strike, and Bloomberg predicted Tuesday that “few, if any” cabbies would strike.

The mayor’s office had no immediate comment on the situation early Wednesday. A taxi commission spokesman did not immediately return a message left on his mobile phone.

The New York Police Department assigned extra police officers to taxi garages and transportation hubs, and plainclothes officers were to ride in some taxis to guard against reprisals against cabbies who chose not to strike, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.

The city’s cabs must have the high-tech equipment when they come up for inspection, starting Oct. 1. Taxi officials say eliminating the need for cash could increase ridership and drivers’ incomes, and that the GPS technology will be used to give drivers traffic tips and help passengers find lost items.