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N.Y. taxi drivers set strike date to protest GPS systems

Protest planned for Sept. 5-6; city says most cabbies will still drive

August 23, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - A group of 10,000 New York taxi drivers has vowed to strike for two days, Sept. 5 and 6, primarily to protest GPS systems being installed in their cabs.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which has 10,000 cab drivers as members, has been threatening a strike for several weeks, and set the strike dates today in a New York press conference.

Executive Director Bhairavi Desai called the strike "a fight for dignity" because of concerns the GPS systems could be used to locate drivers and invade their privacy, especially when they are off-duty.

But the city's Taxi & Limousine Commission has refuted the privacy concerns, and today Commissioner Matthew Daus predicted that the "vast majority" will continue to drive during the strike.

Daus said 44,000 licensed drivers are eligible to drive more than 13,000 taxicabs, but Desai responded that the number includes many part-time drivers or drivers who have not driven cabs for several years.

When asked whether the entire group of alliance members will strike, Desai responded in a telephone interview that "all 10,000 members of the alliance are registered to organize the strike." She said none of the alliance members would prevent other nonstriking drivers from working, although she predicted there would be a large outpouring of support. "It's a cause dear to drivers' hearts," she said.

The commission issued a fact sheet about GPS and other technology improvements that noted the GPS data will be used to display a real-time map of the cab's location in the city, which would be useful to the taxi customer, and could help find a customer's lost property left in a cab. The only data the commission will collect is information regarding the pick-up and drop-off locations, number of passengers and the fare. The commission said this data is already collected on paper.

The commission has assigned four technology integrators to provision cabs with the GPS systems through next January, as well as related systems for collecting fares with credit cards and providing music, news updates and advertising. Meanwhile, the commission has contractually prohibited the integrators from sharing information on the off-duty location of a cab with the agency, the fact sheet said.

The alliance has said that even if the commission has set up such a prohibition, one of the technology integrators is active with taxi management groups. Both the commission and garages will have individual and aggregate data to use during negotiations over fares and the lease fees that drivers pay to companies to rent taxis, Desai claimed.

Desai said the GPS system's purpose is dubious. It will not be used for dispatching cabs to waiting passengers, which is how it is typically used in fleet management systems, Desai said.



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