Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Strike Two

From today's New York Times:

October 23, 2007
NYC
Something Money Can’t Buy
By CLYDE HABERMAN

Like all labor disputes, the one-day strike by taxi drivers yesterday turned on tangible matters, in this case credit card machines, global positioning systems and the like. But it was also about an intangible, something that cabbies often feel they are denied. It is called respect. It is called dignity.

“It’s 100 percent about respect,” said Jahangir Alam, one of a couple of hundred drivers who rallied in protest yesterday outside the Lower Manhattan offices of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. “There’s no respect for cab drivers. As a driver, you have no control. It’s like I’m a slave.”

Mr. Alam’s feelings were shared by others at the afternoon rally. Again and again, the two words — dignity and respect — came up in conversations and in labor leaders’ speeches.

“They never go to the drivers to ask what we want,” John McDonagh said of city officials. Mr. McDonagh said that he has driven a cab on and off since 1977. He gives the job a rest now and again, he said, “to reclaim my humanity.”

It will be left to others to decide whether the strike was the unqualified success claimed by its organizers or the dismal bust preferred by City Hall. Either way, New York’s technophilic mayor seems unlikely to change his mind about the new gizmos that he wants in taxis.

It was hard to see how effective any work stoppage of preset length could be; most New Yorkers can survive without taxis for 24 hours and not break into cold sweats. The drivers were also not helped by the de facto strikebreaker role that City Hall played.

To help maximize taxi availability, it allowed drivers who worked yesterday to charge special rates that gave them more money than usual. Those rates amounted to “a bribe” for scabs, said Graham Hodges, a history professor at Colgate University who was once a cabby himself and recently wrote “Taxi! A Social History of the New York City Cabdriver” (Johns Hopkins University Press).

“The people who do this job are desperate,” Professor Hodges said. When an incentive like yesterday’s special fares comes along, “you don’t have to be a Marxist to understand that that will breed strikebreakers.”

Obscured by the to-ing and fro-ing over the new machines is a more basic point, namely that many drivers feel like serfs, and maligned serfs at that.

Recent immigrants for the most part, they perform a tough, lonely duty that few native Americans want to do anymore — even those Americans who are perpetually out of work. “These people work like sharecroppers,” said Edward G. Rogoff, a Baruch College professor who has studied the taxi industry. “They take the risk. They do all the worst work, and relatively speaking, they don’t get much reward for it.”

What they get instead is a steady diet of being portrayed in corners of the press as nothing but fare gougers. They are the butt of lame David Letterman jokes. They run into the borderline racism of a tabloid column that referred contemptuously last week to a generic “crazed, Tagalog-speaking cabbie.” They put up with slanderous labels like one slapped on them in 1998 by the Giuliani administration, which called them “taxi terrorists” for daring to assert their right to protest city policies.

They endure brain-numbing innovations that only City Hall suits can devise, like those maddening Elmo messages of a few years ago, the ones that screamed at passengers to buckle up and take their belongings.

Now we have a new requirement that drivers accept a credit card system that forces them to pay an unheard-of 5 percent fee on each transaction.

They must also install, at considerable expense, G.P.S. technology that is in no way designed to help them navigate city streets. What it can do, in the spirit of Elmo, is blare enough commercials all day long to make anyone batty. If these devices malfunction, as some inevitably will, drivers must get them fixed fast or find themselves effectively forced off the road.

Granted, some cabbies are their own worst enemies. They could win a lot of friends by paying more attention to passengers and ditching their cellphones, which far too many of them use while driving, in violation of city rules.

But a more fundamental concern yesterday was those two little words. They kept surfacing, as they did in a speech at the rally by Ed Ott, executive director of the New York City Central Labor Council. “This is never about money,” he said. For the drivers, he said, “we demand dignity and respect.”

I couldn't have said it better myself.

83 comments:

KateT said...

It seems to me that credit card companies haveour society in a stranglehold. How can they get away with charging the customer interest, late fees, and monthly/annual fees, and then also collect fees from the merchant? I can to an extent understand charging a merchant for the hardware necessary to provide customers the convenience of paying by credit card (which is worth it to the merchant when s/he can bring in more sales and keep customers happier). But to charge them for the service itself makes no sense when the customer, too, is charged for the service.

I realize that the larger problem here is these specific merchants - the cab drivers - get no choice in whether they extend the convenience of credit card payment to their customers at cost to themselves. It just stands out to me that this is yet another instance of credit card companies benefitting at excessive cost to the whole rest of society.

Anonymous said...

Hi Melissa,

Loved your book, thank you for writing it.

I live in NYC and have heard from some drivers that they prefer the new credit card system because it results in larger tips. Not sure of you want to say in a public blog, but have you found this to be the case? My hubby is getting his hack license (waiting for one more thing before returning to the TLC office) and we don't yet know where we stand on the issue.

Thanks again,
MS, NYC

KATE said...

hey there, i emailed you a few days ago. I was in your cab when that guy exposed himself and punched the front window of your cab...and called us white trash. anyways, i would pay extra to get a signed copy of your book, im really looking forward to reading it.

-katelyn(from boston if you remember)

Paradise Driver said...

Hey, saw you on ABC's World News Now this morning.

Anonymous said...

More power to you drivers!

KateT: It's easy to get a credit card that charges no annual fee, and if you pay off your balance in full every month, you don't have to pay any interest or fees. Hell, there are credit cards that pay you back a small percentage of what you charge on them.

Anonymous said...

Gee, welcome to the real world where you are told what to do at work.

Oh, also thanks for the 2nd update in forever to those who actually were reading you before you became the book author. so nice you remember us even if it is only to whine about how terrible it is to be a taxi driver.

If taxi drivers wish to earn respect maybe they can

- clean out their cabs
- be courteous
- remember tips are additional payment for quality service, not a right
- speak english

Respect is earned, not taken.

Nan Patience said...

Your book and your presence among cab drivers is probably helpful.

There certainly is a lack of respect. It's absolutely true that people who drive a cab in New York City will be driven into the ground by working conditions, whipped by the TLC, insulted by the public, and sent home with not much to show for it.

Dare I say, when you look closely at the workings of the Big Apple, you see that it's run by organized crime, unions, and bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, cabbies as a group aren't well spoken--or well-written--for. They need a strong union that can stand up to the bullies of New York. This was a good write-up.

rexlic said...

While I'm sure New York Hack can take care of herself, a few words to anonymous, the hater: What kind of attitude is this whereby the "book author" owes you constant postings? Clearly, Melissa had other fish to fry, and is now back on the job, and the blog. And where was this whining she was supposedly doing? She reprinted a thoughtful column calling for, oh I don't know, a little common courtesy and respect towards a group of workers who do a tough job under difficult conditions. So you take that as an opportunity to disrespect her--classy. As a fellow cabbie, I speak from experience when I say that people such as yourself, with your little suggestions as to how us peons can earn respect, are ALWAYS the crappiest customers, making absurd demands of service while tipping the worst, regardless of the quality of the ride. If you find cabbies as a whole to be unclean, discourteous, and poorly spoken in the mother tongue, why would you ever take a cab, let alone go to the trouble of reading a blog about the profession?

Anonymous said...

Hey Rexlic,

I am the type of customer you want in a cab. I tip extremely well when I am in the city and end up in a cab which is clean, the ride is not a profanity laced exercise of impatience and the driver polite. The drivers that are true professionals have earned their tips and respect.

Drivers, which I would guess you are, the ones who have a cab that stinks, drivers who have a limited vocabulary so they need to use curse words in every sentence, and those who think they are OWED a tip, receive nothing but the fare as they have done nothing to receive a tip. A tip is a reward for exceptional service.

Cabbies are afraid there will be accountability in their profession if the GPS is installed. Welcome to the real world where you have to produce, be professional and responsible or you're gone.

Ryan said...

I was in NYC a few weeks ago, and in a cab with one of those new devices. Man, THEY SUCK. They're not useful at ALL, and the touch screen on ours only half-worked. Aren't these things brand new? It's only a matter of time before they're all broken. Somebody's brother in law must've had to make a BIG payoff to get these things into the cabs.

rexlic said...

Hey, Anonymous, thanks for welcoming me to the real world--I think I visited there once. In my world, which has included driving nights the past thirteen years, I like nothing better than someone getting into my cab when they'te in town, armed with a pre-existing bias against cabbies and a mouthful of "Poor Richard's Almanac"'s homilies on how I can earn his respect. Makes me sure hope I showered that week.

jiiink said...

Hi Mel, I've been away from this blog for a long time, knowing you were busy with the book and all the rest.
I just noticed on Repubblica.it (something like the NYC for us in Italy), a nice link to an article talking about..you!
here it is:
http://www.repubblica.it/2007/10/sezioni/esteri/blog-taxi-newyork/blog-taxi-newyork/blog-taxi-newyork.html

it is in italian,so if you need a (bad ;-) ) translation just ask!

Massimiliano said...

Hi...
i'm an italian boy, and i discovered this blog yesterday...Thanks for your stories, you give me a great chance to dream as if i lived in New York.
My ex boyfriend lives there and, unfortunately, the distance between us didnt' help to stay still together . So, reading your blog i can imagine to stay there, in Ny, with my Stefano.
Max

ELENA D. PIRAS said...

ciao melissa
si parla di te anche in italia.


//www.repubblica.it/2007/10/sezioni/esteri/blog-taxi-newyork/blog-taxi-newyork/blog-taxi-newyork.html

Aussie Cabbie said...

Electronic credit card and eftpos machines where installed in Oz cabs a few years ago now. The terminal automatically adds a 10% service fee to the entered fare, so that the driver is paid the full fare. The surcharge is divided up between the credit card company, the taxi dispatch service and a company called cabcharge which provides the service.
Generally at a rate of 2.5%, 2.5%, 5% respectively. The system is a saftey issue in that it reduces cash in the car by about 50 - 75% while providing a convenient payment system to corporate users.

There has been a similar system introduced to some cabs recently with a different service provider where the driver gets 2.5 - 55% of the service fee. You can't argue with that.

In regards to GPS - one large taxi company in Perth has introduced it for serveral reasons.
1. Security - the Taxi company knows where the taxi is in case of emergency without the driver having to radio his position.
2. Customer service - the closest taxi can be sent to a telephone booking.

This system cannot be used as a navigation aid to the drivers in its present form. For that we have to purchase a sat/nav device at our own expense. I aquired one earlier this year and I'm happy to say that there are more and more in taxis everyday.

Anonymous said...

You are a sellout with your blog
It used to be good and cool to read but you sold out
Now you suck, you are not funny anymore.

Amr Nasser said...

ok nice blog and nice work!

http://fullguide.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Hey Melissa - i just read your book - really great! Well done!

Thanks Maz
(www.maztalk.com)

Anonymous said...

You almost have to ask who is getting a kick back with this type of gizmos that are going into the taxi's...

Roy said...

Have you had the credit card machine installed? what proportion of your business is being done using this method? How do the credit card companies pay accounts, is it directly into your bank account, if so how often?

Anonymous said...

in louisville, our metro area is divided into map zones (like in the mapsco books you can buy, forget the company that makes them) that the gps technology makes you book into to get runs in that area. it's a pain in the ass and a hassle compared to working cab stands, but hey - it's a little bit more spread out and less urban than a city like nyc or la. all in all, the worst part of the gps system is that it fucks up all of the time and it's nearly worthless when we're REALLY busy.

the credit card machines are the worst of all, though. we get charged a whopping 7%. in addition, we have to have the credit card slips in by 3 pm the next day IF WE WANT TO CLAIM TIPS THAT PEOPLE HAVE WRITTEN ON THE RECIEPT. unheard of.

what cabbies here have done, which i'd imagine cabbies in nyc should do (at least, if they don't get fined or suspended for it) is refuse to take credit cards whenever possible.

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Anonymous said...

I just finished your book and I have to say I'm alittle unhappy with it. The one main problem I have is your "hacking" until you can figure out what to do with your life? You only work when you have to and play xbox the rest of the time.Your the poster child of what is wrong with this country. You need to step up and take control of your life. You live in the greatest country in the world; take advantage of that. All you do is complain and focous on the negitives. Look at all the positives around you get your shit together!!
Former Fan

Anonymous said...

Hahaha, greatest country in the world. Thank you, Former Fan, for making me laugh and brightening my day. It never ceases to amaze me the number of Americans who think that they're living in "the greatest country in the world" when the reality of the matter is that they're living in one of the world's biggest pits of debauchery and downright despair. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed because it linked to malicious content. Learn more.

Anonymous said...

Dear Enjoy
We are the greatest country in the world! so get over the fact your not American and can't stand the fact of what we stand for. The GOD given right to be free to do what we want, when we want, to who ever we want!!!
GOD BLESS AMERICA!!
THE REST OF THE WORLD CAN EAT OUR RED, WHITE AND BLUE SHORTS!!
Love Leatherneck

NY TAXI said...

Hi Melissa,
Thanks for standing with yellow cabbies.
Regarding the credit card, the system is working great and fine. Some drivers are reporting some problems like stolen credit cards that might cause the driver to loose money.
Which the all respcts to all new york city taxi drivers

Anonymous said...

Sad that after reading this so long and enjoying it and buying the book..The blog stops

DL, NYC said...

Melissa,
It's great to see the support you give for all of the drivers out there. I've had some wonderful conversations with taxi drivers over the years and finally decided to post one to my blog. Here it is, and I hope that it will be the first of many:
http://staringatstrangers.typepad.com/staring_at_strangers/2007/12/taxi-wisdom-1.html

Anonymous said...

The hardest thing to write about, is a life never lived.

Short Sale Real Estate said...

What happened to the post above?

David said...

Nat Schlesinger killed his brother Jack, he stole all his money and then burned the place down

Anonymous said...

I suspect that the reason this blog has been dormant is because after all the hype about the book, sales are flat.

I'm sure if the book was running up the charts with a bullet Melissa would be orgasminating it's success.

Perhaps she should check in here and let people know what's happening.

After all it's this blog that got her started. There is no reason to abandon her core fans just because the rest of the world isn't interested in her expolits!!

A Real Hack

Anonymous said...

well in fairness, she pretty much said she was gonna move on.
the book sales have nothing to do with the blog, in fact i think u got it backwards.

Anonymous said...

mostly, people blog to vent, when they find better media they'll just stop, simple as that.

Paradise Driver said...

Ollie, ollie oxen free!

Come out, come out where ever you are!


Howzit, MP? Whats going on?

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Anonymous said...

hey.is your site all done ,should i remove from desktop? good luck to you...seen nothing sinse oct.will miss you.good luck.m

Anonymous said...

ooooooooooowell......
I'll miss this blog,

guhbye

sergica said...

Strike three....
http://sergica.miniville.fr/env/

Jack said...

Well i ordered your book and that did'nt arrive [not your fault],nothing on your blog since october so i'm wasting my time, deleted from favorites, bye.

Anonymous said...

I'm not smart enough to write a book, so please help me:
https://paydotcom.com/r/11804/lapetitechat25/2922897/

Japanese Masshole said...

Helllooooooo?
1 line of "Happy New Year" would help... It's lonely here.
Are you also in writers' guild strike?

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monimtw said...

nice blog i must admit..
i read your blog and it is excellent about the cab drivers.
good article,its really good.

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Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite dead blogs.

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Anonymous said...

Bye bye.

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite dead blogs too!

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Tim said...

I see the last post here was in October. I hope this blog continues because it is really entertaining and offers a great perspective for all us who are not cabbies.

Anonymous said...

As far as dead blogs go, I guess this one is okay. Still not as good as this dead blog, though.

LeeRoy said...

Cool.Good post.I like this blog.

shannon said...

i can understand why they would be upset, but really it's a good idea for cabbies to accept credit cards. i mean it sucks that they're going to have to pay a fee, but they'll just undoubtedly raise fares to pay for it.

shannon said...

i can understand why they would be upset, but really it's a good idea for cabbies to accept credit cards. i mean it sucks that they're going to have to pay a fee, but they'll just undoubtedly raise fares to pay for it.

Anonymous said...

thanks for all the laughs,this was a very entertaining blog....good luck in whatever you decide to do next.



see ya

farouk said...

your intense emotions made it all very clear, i guess you perfectly described the situation

Gina R Snape said...

Hey, we miss you. Come on out and say hello. :-(

aljorista said...

cool!! a cab driver from new york!!! happy spring from spain; i hope someday i'll fly to manhattan

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Anonymous said...

R.I.P.

Anonymous said...

Remember when we held on in the rain.
The nights we almost lost it once again.
We can take the night into tomorrow
living on feelings

Touching you I feel it all again.

Didn't we almost have it all
when love was all we had worth giving?
The ride with you was worth the fall
my friend

Loving you makes life worth living!
Didn't we almost have it all

the nights we held on till the morning?
You know you'll never love that way again

Didn't we almost have it all?

The way you used to touch me felt so fine

We kept ovr hearts together down the line.
A moment in the soul can last forever
comfort and keep us

Help me bring the feeling back again!

Didn't we almost have it all
when love was all we had worth giving? . . .

Didn't we have the best of times
when love was young and new?
Couldn't we reach inside and find
that world of me and you?
We'll never lose it again

'Couse once you know what love is
you never let it end.
Didn't we almost have it all
when love was all we had worth giving? . . .
Didn't we almost have it all?

Anonymous said...

you suck M.P. and i'm anonymous

Paul Allen said...

So, its pretty obvious why the blog has stopped. The cab driver has left his ride.

Hope you are living a happy life what ever you are doing.

Maybe it was your time to tell the taxi driver where you want to go.

Peace

MySpace Design said...

I just wanted to say I loved your book.

Alexandra said...

Really enjoyed your post on queercents. Thanks very much!

Cheers!

Mason said...

To the anonymous that commented to Relix;

It's usually funny (and predictable) that the ones who claim to leave the biggest tips are usually the ones who don't. Another note is that the cleanliness of New York City yellow cabs is a direct result of the passengers; not the drivers. So take a little introspective time out to understand that it's people of "your" likings who are to blame for messy cabs. As far as vocabulary goes; it's a pretty ignoramus magna you take on immigrants (more than 90% of the workforce) not being able to engage in political and/or philosophical thought with you. Last time I checked, especially with your disdain towards the drivers, not too many words are needed to take you to your end destination. You can't possibly hold the driver responsible for not being able to acquiesce to the type of conversation you want. If you think that cab drivers in general require a higher proficiency in the language; I suggest you write to your local congressman to change the laws on how much English a driver needs to yield. On the other hand, if you engage in these conversations with your driver knowingly that it's beyond their abilities (maybe a self indulgence of yours); it's a pretty pathetic way to vent out your linguistic superiority (only in English I'm sure) to the drivers.
About the tips: believe you me cab drivers aren't dependent on your tips (especially yours.) But in my experiences, cab drivers go above and beyond their duties to ensure their passengers arrive efficiently and promptly to their destination. As a token of appreciation a tip should be given. Trust me, an extra dollar or two will not make or break the driver (in your case an extra nickel or two... usually the same nickels that I throw back at you once you leave my cab.) It's usually a hegelian process that turns the cab driver coarse and bitter. Once again you only have yourself to blame.
In short, passengers of your sort are not appreciated (no matter how big the tip is) and for that matter not wanted. By your tone I'm willing to bet my license that you're the type of passenger who gives their sophomoric instructions on how to get out of traffic which usually leads the cab into more and then complain about it. With your type; I'm more than gladly to pay for your bus/subway fare if only you don't take my cab.

King of New York Hacks said...

Well I read Melissa's book and it was a good read....since she isn't driving much anymore you can read about another hack at

http://kingofnewyorkhacks.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I bought your book about a week ago and just finished it and just wanted to say it was one of the best books I have ever read. You seem to be really down to earth and I truley loved your story telling! Thanks alot Brad G.

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Julie said...

Yes, you are right . They could win a lot of friends by paying more attention to passengers and ditching their cellphones, which far too many of them use while driving, in violation of city rules.

Sam Walker said...

i am touched by your blog, it is seriously amazing, love to read your book now.

airport pick up said...

Strikes raised by taxi drivers are becoming common nowadays.May be it's because the petrol price increases dramatically.

steve said...

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Taxi Trivandrum said...

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