A group of New York City taxi drivers say they are going to strike for at least two days in September to protest a regulation calling for all city cabs to be equipped with GPS (Global Positioning System) tracking technology.
Starting on Oct. 1, all 13,000 taxis must have touch-screens and GPS when they come up for inspection. The expense of outfitting the vehicles — between US$2,500 and $5,000 each — and, perhaps more importantly, the perceived intrusions on privacy are the reasons for their ire.
Many drivers have expressed fears that the Taxi & Limousine Commission, which regulates taxicabs and is responsible for the new regulation, will hand over driver-related information — such as whether a particular car was speeding — to the police. The commission has said it would not do this.
The arguments for implementing the new technology are based largely on customer convenience. It will let passengers pay their fares with credit cards, map the taxi’s location, look up the latest news, and find local information. However, driver safety is also a factor. Panic buttons similar to house alarm systems, for instance, could quickly summon assistance. Another benefit to drivers: The so-called trip sheets — records they’re required to keep for each fare — would be automated.
Not all taxi drivers are against equipping their cabs with GPS tech. The most outspoken against the new regulation is the 8,400-member New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
Wave of the Future
Even if the drivers do strike, it is highly unlikely the commission will back down from enacting the regulation. The law is on its side, for starters.
“By New York City ordinance, taxi cab drivers are an integral part of the city’s transportation facilities,” Joseph Sanscrainte, a partner withBryan Cave, told TechNewsWorld. “They are no different than buses or bridges. As such, they are subject to reasonable regulation — and that is exactly what is occurring here.”
This particular fight was settled several years ago when it was established that employees have no expectation of computer privacy in the workplace, observed Dave Leis, chief marketing officer at GPS vendorNovaTracker.
“Most of these cabs are owned by someone else,” he told TechNewsWorld. “They have no reason to expect privacy in that situation.”
Still, the new regulation clearly touches a nerve among some taxi drivers and — judging from some related court cases — among other motorists as well. In a handful of cases currently making their way through the courts, individuals are challenging convictions of vehicular manslaughter or reckless endangerment that were based on “black box” data concerning their vehicles’ movements.
This, said Bryan Cave’s Sanscrainte, is the big question: “Is this an example of big brother government, or is it really just the application of a new technology to serve the interests of taxi cab drivers and consumers?”
Based on what the commission has promised in terms of privacy, the issue falls into the latter category, in his view. “The commission is seeking to apply new technology, and there are a number of good reasons for doing so.”
The privacy issues raised by this particular incident, though, are clearly going to be raised again in other venues — especially as GPS become ever more prevalent.
“GPS is the wave of the future,” NovaTracker’s Leis said, likening it to cellular technology several years ago. “Cell phones are so ubiquitous now, people can’t imagine being without one. GPS will be the same.”
Indeed, if some people are bothered by the application of GPS in public cabs, he said, they had better prepare for an even more invasive use of the technology — such as GPS systems that can transmit biometrics. “The industry is definitely going there. At some point, buildings in New York, say, will require a biometric check to enter.”