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Opinion

Cab Riders Deserve Better

by Michael O'Loughlin, Aug 15, 2014
 

taxi photo

(nyc.gov)


Calling for Taxi Trips that are Safer, More Accessible, and with Fewer Impacts on the Environment

The New York City taxicab is woven into the fabric of our city's personality as much as skyscrapers, unbeatable pizza and high-pressure jobs. The iconic yellow cab has been a familiar part of our streetscape for decades, ushering "suits" to meetings, sure, but also students and frazzled parents to school on late mornings; tourists to the Empire State Building; and plenty of us back to Brooklyn many a late night.

Yet despite their established presence, each time I hop into one of the yellow, green, black, or other for-hire vehicles now roaming our neighborhoods, whether flagged, called or "app'd," I'm increasingly unsure what I'm getting myself into. While the evolution, innovation, and expansion of options are welcome, there are essential protective upgrades that must also be made – especially in the Vision Zero Era when NYC has committed to prevent death and injury on our city's streets.

With more than 240 million trips taken each year, the NYC taxicab industry could classify as the seventh largest transit system in the world in and of itself. This colossal scale comes with an equally immense amount of interaction with passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers – and, sadly, all too many preventable fatalities and injuries along the way. The distressing number of high profile taxi-related injuries and deaths making headlines lately show a grave need for updates to the regulations responsible for keeping New Yorkers and visitors safe on our streets and in our cabs.

Cab riders have a right to expect that when they enter a city-regulated cab or for-hire vehicle, their ride will be as safe as possible, which is one way we hope the launch of Cab Riders United can make a difference. Cab Riders United intends to serve as a voice for the 1.2 million passengers who ride in the city's cabs and for-hire vehicles each day. Our hope is that the voice of passengers and the public will be heard by Mayor de Blasio's office and the TLC and can help them move forward on key initiatives and regulations to improve the safety, quality and environmental impact of the city's taxicab industry.

New York is a world leader in culture, business, and food – constantly pursuing or pioneering "the next big thing" in nearly every category. The city's innovative policies on reducing tobacco-related death and disease and improving sustainability have been imitated the world over. And, our newer initiatives like paid sick leave and universal pre-K may be similarly replicated in years to come. Today, we should also embrace the opportunity to lead the charge in innovative transportation services, regulations, and technology to ensure safer, better quality cabs and car services with fewer negative impacts on the environment. New York can once again create a model for other cities to follow.

Cab Riders United strongly supports Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero goal and its guiding principle that death or injury on our city's streets is simply unacceptable. Taxicabs and for-hire vehicles play an important role in New York City and they should be designed and operated with safety in mind. These vehicles should meet or surpass all federal crash and safety standards rather than be exempted from them. How many New Yorkers realize that only one taxi model on the city's streets has been crash-tested with the partition installed to prove its safety? Did you ever realize that the taxi partition we've seen for decades not only changes the vehicle's structural integrity but can prevent the passengers' airbags from deploying? Did you ever notice how often the credit card reader is installed exactly where your face will land in the event of a crash? In the city's emergency rooms, the doctors and nurses are tragically all-too familiar with an injury they call "partition face."

We can do better. Designing taxis inside and out with safety as the top priority; improving seatbelt and child seat regulations; requiring exterior warning lights and sliding doors to reduce the risk to pedestrians and cyclists should all be on the agenda. Not to mention, research shows that higher pay means safer cabbies; and it's simply unconscionable that many drivers working an 11 or 12 hour shift cannot even adjust their seat position to maintain comfort and alertness because of how the partition is installed. With this in mind, we also need to work on improving the training, pay, and working conditions for drivers

In a city where most residents do not own a car, but rely on a driving service when public transportation just won't work - such as returning from a medical appointment, the airport, or in times of emergency - passengers have a right to expect services that are convenient, comfortable and high quality. This includes continuing to expand service in previously underserved communities through the green Boro taxis and other innovative new options like Uber and Lyft, accelerating progress to make taxis accessible for passengers in wheelchairs, and simply a clean and comfortable ride.

Finally, New York is a leader among cities in an ever more urbanized world, and with that comes a responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and show others how a great city can become a greener, cleaner place to live. New York's taxis and for-hire vehicles are vital to the city's transportation system, but we need smart regulations that minimize the vehicles' negative impacts on climate, ambient air quality, and public space while creating a level playing field for fair competition.

As a proud New Yorker, I honestly believe that there is no other city like ours. The yellow taxi is more than a symbol of our city; it's an integral part of the hustle and bustle that makes NYC great. Yellow cabs and for-hire vehicles connect a diverse and dynamic population across neighborhoods, businesses, and cultures to bring people together. And, for generations the industry has created economic opportunity for New Yorkers, especially new immigrants. The taxi and for-hire vehicle industry should continue to do all of these things – but even better, with improved safety, expanded access, greater comfort and convenience, and a reduced impact on the environment.

It's time for New Yorkers and city officials, including Mayor de Blasio and members of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, to take the next steps to make our taxi and for-hire vehicle system one that we all can both rely on and take pride in. The Cab Riders United agenda is fueled by the energy and insights of regular New Yorkers who pay for car transportation and by the expertise of health professionals, academics, transportation policy advocates, and allied leaders from NYC's labor, business and design communities. We invite you to add your voice and join us as we advocate for these three principles: safety, quality service, and reduced environmental impact. Please visit our website, sign our petition and let us know your ideas!

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Michael O'Loughlin, is a proud New Yorker and campaign organizer for Cab Riders United. He has worked on a number of NYC transportation initiatives to make the city's systems safer and more accessible for residents and visitors.

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@GothamGazette

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Last Updated (Aug 18, 2014)