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Notes from New York's Taxi Strike

by Worldchanging New York writer Mark Caserta

Back in late August (way back during the summer of 2007 which is now sooo over) I wrote about a group of taxi drivers who intended to strike on September 5th, in order to protest a new rule that requires them to install special GPS units in their cabs.

Well, September 5th has come and the strike is on! Since I brought up the issue, initially, I thought I'd do a little follow-up and give my take on how it has effected the city. The first thing I noticed this morning was a large number of yellow cabs parked along 4th and 3rd Avenues in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I spend a lot of time in the area and I've never seen this before, so presumably these are taxis that were taken off of the road for the day by striking drivers.Who knows, though, it's hard to say without "On Strike" signs in the cab windows. Note to cabbies: put "On Strike" signs in the windows of your unused cabs next time!

During my bike ride to Manhattan over the Brooklyn Bridge, I didn't notice any major changes to bridge traffic. The bridge roadway still looked pretty packed, to me. Certainly a taxi strike is much different than the recent transit strike, which forced tens of thousands of commuters to walk or bike over the city's bridges. From what I could see, there really wasn't a big difference in the number of people walking or biking to work over the bridge, as I could have guessed. Arriving in Manhattan near Chambers Street, I immediately saw a few cabs taking passengers towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I had to wonder: Was the strike a complete bust? Then, after taking the scene in, I noticed that the streets seemed much quieter than the day before. In fact, it was a little bit eerie! Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to stop by the airports or Grand Central or Penn Stations, but news reports mentioned long lines for taxis at each site. As one labor leader said during a WNBC interview "If you can't see the difference between yesterday and today at Penn Station, either you're blind or you're a tourist". I'll take his word for it.

The truth is, while it is unclear how many of the 13,000 cabs were off of the roads today, the number of cabs missing seemed to make the streets a bit more navigable and safe for bikers like me. Was the air a little cleaner? Perhaps, but it's hard to tell when the air is already so dirty.

Frankly, I think that the cab drivers could have used a little pizzazz to bring more attention to their strike. How about this: park your cabs all over the city and plot them on a Google Map! The results would kind of look like a GPS map and you could say something like: "If we are forced to install GPS Units, the future will look like this." Take the idea guys, it's free! Or, take a cue from Roman Taxi Drivers. They know how to raise a ruckus. Trust me, I speak from experience. I saw some serious taxi strikes in Rome on my Honeymoon back in 1998.

So, what do you think about the strike? What are your experiences?

More coverage from Streetsblog.

Photo via Flickr.

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