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Cash and Cabbies

Hopefully, my last post was sadly misinformed. Was it? Allen J. Fromberg, Deputy Commissioner of Public Affairs for the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, was kind enough to respond to some arguments I presented about the difficult circumstances facing New York cab drivers. According to Mr. Fromberg, working conditions have improved greatly since the studies I was using were published:

Recent data suggests that the average taxicab driver has more than nine years under his or her belt. The number of taxicab drivers in the “driver pool” is at historically high levels — above 48,000 — signaling that the fare increases of 2004 and 2006 have completely done away with the previously cyclical economy-driven ebb and flow from the taxi industry to other job options. More drivers are opting into the industry, and less drivers are leaving it. Driver income has benefited greatly from the fare increases, which guarantee a living wage for the first time [in] industry history, and average a net $17 per hour plus. The addition of credit card capabilities to all taxicabs has resulted in measurably higher tips.

If conditions for cabbies are improving, I’ve never been so happy to stand corrected. I was also thrilled to see several readers leap forward with a spirited defense of New York cab service, dispelling many of the stereotypes. Perhaps, taken together, better work terms are indeed leading to better service, as I maintained they would.
On the other hand, many of my concerns about the working conditions of cabbies still stand. One small point: the New York Taxi Workers Alliance is less than enthusiastic about the new credit card system which Mr. Fromberg touts, calling it

a system of wage cuts and hijacked incomes on the backs of 40,000 licensed taxi drivers. Under the TLC’s credit card system, drivers lose 5 percent of their income on all credit card fares, including the tip and toll, and wait up to several weeks to be reimbursed by the taxi garage or broker.

Other, more fundamental problems abound. For the privilege of battling Manhattan traffic 12 hours a day, drivers risk their lives; thanks to the ever-present threat of accidents, robberies, and assaults by passengers, taxi industry workers nationwide have a rate of fatal on-the-job incidents that is about five times that of the average worker.
Moreover, truly serious economic problems facing cabbies (and not just cabbies in New York) are deeply rooted in the structure of the industry; these are not necessarily something that tinkering at the margins can fix. We may have higher fares, but in all the system is still anything but fair. More on this next time.