The latest insult from the Parking Authority is its plan to force taxi drivers to accept the installation of global positioning systems in every medallion cab operating in the city. It is spending $4 million of taxpayers' money to buy this technology at $2,500 per unit.
On paper, the plan to use the navigation system seems reasonable. The Parking Authority says it will increase the safety of taxi drivers, aid in the quick recovery of lost and found items, improve customer service, and facilitate universal acceptance of credit-card payments. What the Parking Authority isn't telling the public is the invasion of driver and customer privacy this technology will create. The scenarios are numerous and frightening. Suppose a customer uses a taxi to see a psychiatrist after work each day; the Parking Authority will have records of these visits. If a young, pregnant woman wanted to call a cab to visit an abortion clinic, the records of her trip would be stored in a Parking Authority computer database.
Big Brother will be watching you. Count on it.
Beyond the issue of invasion of privacy, global positioning systems have other flaws. The Parking Authority says that cab service will be more efficient. It plans to allow dispatch companies to keep each call for 30 minutes before sending them into a centralized global positioning system unit. Taxi drivers believe such a system could result in a 45-minute wait for a cab. Who in his right mind is going to wait that long for a cab?
The Parking Authority's praise of the global positioning system as a great facilitator of universal credit-card use also is bogus. Credit-card payments for taxi fares are widely accepted now and can be done electronically. Global positioning system technology isn't needed for credit-card use.
This system will not improve customer service, it will hinder it. With global positioning systems, taxi drivers will be prohibited from picking up their steady customers. People on the go who try to hail taxis from the street will have a hard time getting one because more taxis will be responding to calls. Drivers will suffer, as well. Late at night, drivers would have to go to a call in a dangerous location or face a $250 fine for refusing to sacrifice their own safety.
The real question is: Why should the Parking Authority be spending millions of dollars when subsidized day-care and preschool education funds are being cut? Where are our priorities?
The Taxi Workers Alliance believes this money should be spent on workers' compensation, health care or death benefits. Other global positioning system "pass-through" costs to the drivers will include a $300 installation fee, maintenance costs, and an $18-a-week service fee. Not to mention that the driver is responsible for the original $2,500 if the unit is broken or stolen.
More than 85 percent of the city's taxi drivers are first-generation immigrants, and most are working-class poor. Drivers already have to work seven hours before they can turn a small profit for themselves.
Philadelphia's 5,000-plus taxi drivers are not alone in their opposition to global positioning system technology in cabs. The New York City Council recently rejected a similar proposal.
I have been driving a taxi for more than 23 years in Philadelphia, and not until the Parking Authority's takeover has any regulating agency ever tried to be our master. This global positioning system mandate by the Parking Authority is nothing more than a money-making scheme that offers no real benefits for the drivers or riding public.
Ronald Blount is a founding member of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Philadelphia.