Taxi strike will end after one day

Posted: September 05, 2007

The president of striking Philadelphia cab drivers announced this afternoon that the drivers would end their strike a day early and that all taxis would be back on the street by 6 a.m. Thursday.

"We've made our point. We've proved that we can launch a two-day strike," said Ronald Blount, president of the 1,200-member Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Blount made the announcement as striking cab drivers prepared to stage a rally at 3101 Market St., headquarters of the Philadelphia Parking Authority.

Earlier in the day, lines were sporadically forming at 30th Street Station, with 40 or more people at times waiting for taxis or limousines.

But as the rush hour ended, there were few people waiting for cabs and a line of about nine medallion cabs was  queued up for customers, a sign that Philadelphia commuters survived the first hours of the planned two-day taxi strike with minor inconveniences.

"It's going just about how we expected," Blount said.

He said that 100 to 150 of the city's 1,600 medallion cabs appear to be not honoring the strike.

Most of the cabs picking up passengers at 30th Street Station were from PHL Taxi, whose owner supports the Parking Authority's technological improvements and has refused to strike.

The striking taxi drivers are upset over mandated use of global positioning system dispatching and credit card readers.

In addition to PHL taxis, neighborhood cabbies from Germantown drove into Center City to pick up business. Limousine and sedan drivers, allowed to do street pickups under an authority emergency order, were also plentiful.

Blount said the cab drivers' response to the strike illustrated what he called a "serious problem" with the parking authority's dispatching system: "Everyone is serving Center City, nobody is serving people in the neighborhoods."

Pam Remick left her Brooklyn home earlier than usual, hoping to get to her job in the Naval Business Center before 9 a.m.

But she wasn't counting on a long wait because usually there's none at all outside 30th Street Station, she said.

"As of now, we are meeting the demand," Phyllis VanIstendal, spokeswoman for Philadelphia International Airport, said about 9:20 a.m. There are fewer cabs - "it's thin," she said - but travelers are finding enough options because it's a less busy time of day.

"That could change as the day progresses," she said.

The largest group representing drivers of city medallion cabs started its 48-hour strike at 6 a.m. today, acting in concert with New York City cabbies, who are also protesting the imposition of in-cab global-positioning dispatch and credit card systems.

There are 1,600 medallion taxis in Philadelphia and about 200 non-medallion cabs that operate in Germantown, the Far Northeast, and lower Bucks County.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which has regulated city cabs since 2005, has authorized operators of 2,000 limousines to pick up passengers at taxi stands at such high-traffic spots as Philadelphia International Airport, 30th Street Station, and the Convention Center in advance of a strike.

Linda J. Miller, Parking Authority spokeswoman, said the executive order allowing the city's 161 limousine companies to fill the vacuum left by striking taxi drivers was also used to cope with a one-day strike in May 2006 that left about 100 cabs operating.

Miller said that the limousines would respond to anyone hailing them on the street but that there would be no central dispatching, as with taxis. Anyone calling for a ride would have to pick a limousine company from the phone book.

The potential strike comes when many are returning to Center City from vacations and when 30,000 people are in town for the 127th annual session of the National Baptist Convention, USA Inc., the nation's oldest and largest African American religious convention.

"It's a good thing that Philadelphia is a very walkable city," said Anthony Malerba, a spokesman for the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp.

Malerba said visitors have several alternatives to using cabs, including buses and subways and the "Tut Trolley," the $2-a-trip shuttle that takes visitors from Independence National Historical Park to the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute.

The tourism group's Web site - www.gophila.com - includes information about transportation options.

David Benton, vice president and general manager of the Rittenhouse Hotel, said his biggest worry was getting people to and from the airport and train station.

Benton said that the hotel had two house cars and had put on extra drivers, and that he had made his personal car available. Some guests have hired limos for the day.

At issue is a $4 million system produced for the authority by VeriFone Transportation Systems, a New York joint venture of VeriFone Inc. and TaxiTronic Inc.

The system, which the Parking Authority has required for medallion cabs, includes a global-positioning system, or GPS, integrated with the cabs' dispatcher, and a meter that lets passengers pay using a credit card or "smart card."

Blount said the GPS frequently loses contact with the satellite, which means the drivers lose contact with dispatchers - and potential customers. Drivers also complain that the credit card device can fail because of signal problems.

Although Miller acknowledged that there were problems with the system and said the authority was withholding about $1 million in payments to VeriFone Transportation, she said the authority believed the drivers' real objection was being forced to accept credit cards.

In an interview last week, Amos Tamam, chief executive officer of VeriFone Transportation, said that he was confident the problems in Philadelphia would be resolved and that the company would complete its contract on schedule.

Tamam called the system a "tremendous cultural change in the taxi industry in Philadelphia."

Tamam said some problems may have been caused by vehicle mechanical problems and others by "driver training and drivers' willingness to accept change."

Philadelphia was a pilot project for VeriFone, one of four companies that will install similar systems in New York's 13,180 medallion cabs beginning Oct. 1.

The New York program is why the Taxi Workers Alliance of New York, which claims to represent about a third of the city's 20,000 active cabbies, also called for a 48-hour strike for today and tomorrow.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has said the city would not reverse the decision to install the technology in New York cabs.

Bloomberg also discounted the chance of a widespread walkout: "Our expectation at the moment is that there will be very few, if any, taxi drivers striking [today] and the next day. I think cooler heads will prevail."

According to news reports, however, the wait for taxies was growing this morning at LaGuardia Airport and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.


Contact staff writer Joseph A. Slobodzian at 215-854-2985 or jslobodzian@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writer Dan Rubin contributed to this article, which also contains information from the Associated Press.

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