NEW YORK (AP) _ To taxi officials, the touch-screen monitors
popping up in cabs help passengers make the most of the 13 New York
minutes spent on an average ride.
Passengers can pay by credit card _ no more fumbling for cash
and tip. As a cab heads through Greenwich Village, for example,
passengers can find ads and reviews for neighborhood bars and
restaurants. They can also view news stories and an electronic map
of their cab's progress.
The monitors are now in 200 city cabs as an experiment, but a
plan to put them in all 13,000 cabs has angered many drivers. They
see the technology as an expensive imposition that would cost them
money and allow taxi owners and officials to check up on them.
The issue has a delicate history: A 2003 experiment with
touch-screen television in taxis ended within months, amid
passenger antipathy. And the drivers' group leading the opposition
to the monitors notes that it carried out a crippling one-day taxi
strike over other issues in 1998.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is scheduled Thursday to
consider an Oct. 1 deadline for all of the city's cabs to start
installing the systems.
``This project is nothing short of revolutionary and
evolutionary for the taxi industry," Taxi and Limousine
Commissioner Matthew W. Daus wrote in a recent agency newsletter.
The commission called for the technology while approving a 26
percent fare increase in 2004, and the agency argues that both
riders and drivers stand to benefit.
The credit-card option is expected to prove popular with
customers in what is now a mostly cash, $1.8 billion-a-year
business. Officials say it could translate to bigger tips and more
fares from riders short on cash.
The global positioning system in the technology will also
automate required record-keeping and give drivers crucial
information about traffic or lost items. If a customer reports
losing a wallet, for example, the taxi commission could send alerts
to drivers in the neighborhood where the customer was dropped off
to be on the lookout.
The commission has approved tests of four systems and may
endorse them for sale within days. Taxi owners would choose from
the four systems, at a maximum three-year cost of $7,200 for
equipment and various fees, although commission officials expect
the cost will be far less in many cases. Vendors say advertising
can offset at least some of owners' costs.
Objecting drivers have raised concerns about the costs of the
hardware, credit-card fees and potential working time lost if the
systems need repair. Some worry that the global-positioning system
will be used to track their movements, although the taxi commission
says it will record only the pickup and drop-off points and fare,
which drivers already are required to log.
``It's trampling on our constitutional rights, and it will cut
deeply into our income," said Bill Lindauer, who drove a cab for
30 years and is a member of the organizing committee of the New
York Taxi Workers Alliance, a drivers' advocacy group with more
than 7,000 members.
The alliance held a rally in March to protest the new systems,
and Lindauer said this month that the group was exploring legal and
political avenues for trying to block the plan.
But some drivers embrace the technology, which came free for
those who offered their cabs as proving grounds.
Cesar Norena, a 17-year taxi driver testing a system made by
Englewood, N.J.-based TaxiTech, says passengers have made liberal
use of its features, and he believes the credit-card option will
``People really like it," he said, ``and as a driver, I really
like it, too."