Actually, de Blasio’s Vision Zero Blueprint Has a Lot for Cab Drivers to Like

Hard to see a downside to preventing ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/08/28/another-view-of-yesterdays-cab-crash/##scenarios like this##. Photo: Trish Naudon-Thomas
Hard to see a downside to preventing ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/08/28/another-view-of-yesterdays-cab-crash/##scenarios like this##. Photo: Trish Naudon-Thomas

Bhairavi Desai may not believe speeding by cab drivers is a problem in NYC, but for someone whose job is to look out for cabbies’ best interests, there should be a lot to like about Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero proposals.

Desai is executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. She has called automated speed enforcement “simply another tactic to raise revenue,” and in response to de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan — which includes technology to monitor cab driver behavior and ensure compliance with speed limits — here’s what she had to say:

“To shut off the meter in the middle of a fare is not only insane Big Brother, it’s severe, cruel, and simply unhelpful. Technology that can truly be helpful should be considered, but this would just be overboard. Drivers already have no guaranteed income, only expenses on the lease, fuel and vehicle repairs. Every statistic shows taxi drivers are the safest drivers in New York City. We don’t deserve to be singled out and punished to do even better.”

Also this: “What if, in a moment, you’re speeding to actually avoid something?”

Promoting adherence to traffic laws is not a plot to punish cab drivers. It’s about safety — not only for passengers and bystanders, but cab drivers themselves. And many of de Blasio’s Vision Zero proposals look like win-wins.

First, machines are, by their nature, fair. Cabbies complain about being harassed by cops, but they can’t be harassed by the black box or the speed governor.

Second, cabbies complain that passengers want them to drive faster. With a speed governor, for example, a cab driver could explain that he can’t break the speed limit, even if he wants to. It’s not hard to imagine slapping every cab with a partition decal explaining same.

Third, highly professionalized and well-compensated vehicle operators — pilots, bus drivers, train engineers — work with EDRs and other in-vehicle monitoring. These commonplace devices improve safety and add a level of accountability that builds esteem for the profession. The tech advancements proposed under Vision Zero could very well generate leverage for better working conditions.

Also worth noting is that taxi drivers were at first fierce opponents of credit card payments, but they came around not long after the system was implemented, and are now strongly in favor of it.

Finally, let’s get real: Unless you’re Bruce Willis, punching a cab’s accelerator is exponentially more likely to cause a catastrophe than prevent one.

  • CasualObserver

    There´s another way to cut taxi speeding – meter by the minute, not the mile.

  • Vinnie

    I bet what they’re really worried about is someone taking the data from the black box and noticing the ring-around-the-rosey ride they give to anyone who seems like they are from out of town, or just too boozy to notice…

  • J

    ”What if, in a moment, you’re speeding to actually avoid something?” This is a huge red herring, in my opinion. For one, I’m waiting to even hear a made up situation where this is necessary and safer. Second, if you’re in such an impossible situation that you simply must speed to avoid some sort of danger, surely you’d be willing to give up a dollar or two in favor of the safety of you and your customer. I can even come up with a situation where long distance speeding is necessary for safety.

  • Reader

    If you did need to speed for such an amount of time that there was a significant revenue loss — say, if you were being chased by fast-moving zombies — surely there would be some appeals process. A driver could easily file testimony explaining the situation and, if his justification for speeding is deemed acceptable, be awarded money out of some general fund.

  • Rolando Peñate

    I’m all for better enforcement, but this is a fallacy: “First, machines are, by their nature, fair.” Machines are full of code/algorithms/policy that are written by people and can easily encapsulate — and obfuscate! — biases.

  • Reader

    The fact that we use a fare box with a calibrated meter and not a pre-ride negotiation between driver and passenger contradicts that idea. It puts the price of a ride in the hands of a neutral party, helping people avoid disputes. That’s one reason people visitors are told to avoid gypsy cabs at the airport, since the negotiated fare and the fare demanded by the driver upon arrival can be very different amounts by wide margins.

    Not that you can’t tip the scales on any machine, but why do we accept that meters are fair but that speed governors would not be?

  • Rolando Peñate

    I’m not arguing that a policy about speed governors is unfair, I’m merely saying that machines are not “by their nature” fair.

  • KillMoto

    Two points:
    1. Cabbie speeding is in some cases a classic “tragedy of the commons” problem. Other cabbies speed, and though I don’t want to I must – to be competative. Take away the speeding from some takes away the incentive to speed for others.
    2. Limiting the speed of a critical mass of drivers limits the speed of all the drivers. Say the traffic on 6th Ave is 20-25% cabs – none of which can speed. All other drivers are slowed by the cabs – basically forming a moving traffic calming system.

  • KillMoto

    That, plus the speed governor, is a winning idea.

  • Eric McClure

    The only time a cabbie speeds to get away from something is the person who just opened the door and said “I want to go to Brooklyn.”

  • Guest

    You misunderstand the price incentives. The speeding is not motivated by competitiveness. A person hailing a cab doesn’t make a decision about which cab to take based on the driver’s speed.

    Rather, taxi drivers know they make the most money with the initial fare from picking up a new passenger. As long as the fare structure works this way, they feel the pressure to get their passenger out of the car so they can pick up another fare.

    And they do feel pressure, given the uncertainty of making enough to cover the high leases for the artificially inflated medallions.

  • Guest

    That’s always been a great story, but that’s not their incentive.

    They’re much better off staying in Manhattan and turning over as many short trips as possible. The initial fare is where they can actually earn some money.

  • Kaja

    It’s helpful to understand cabbie behavior as ‘min/maxing’ the fare structure.

    The rules: You’re paid for distance traveled above twelve miles per hour, AND, time spent under twelve miles per hour.

    So, you’re paid for both time and distance, but not simultaneously. The clever cabbie wants cover as much distance in as little time, and then, sit still for the maximum possible time.

    That’s why cabbies gun it into red lights.

    At a theoretically maximum velocity /c/, the hack travels X distance instantaneously – between stoplights. He then spends entire light-cycles not moving, double-billing.

    Accelerating into the red light, followed by hard braking at the stop line, is how you get paid.

    I suspect cabbies optimize for this behavior, even unconsciously, because they see the meter go up more.

    Bonus points: I’d also like to know if fractional meter-ticks are carried between mode shifts. If they’re not, then a cabbie loses whatever increment of the mile the meter hasn’t ticked whenver he drops below 12mph.

  • Joe R.

    I repaired taxi meters for two years as an employee, and for another 20 or so years as a consultant, so I can tell you that you don’t lose any portions of increments between mode shifts. The meter calculates the fare internally to one or two decimal places more than you see on the meter but doesn’t update the meter until you reach the next fare increment (in this case the fare increases in 50 cent increments). For example, internally the meter might read $4.4998 when you stop at a red light. It then goes into time mode, and updates to $4.50 as soon as the internally calculated fare reaches $4.5000. The only time you lose the remaining increment before it updates is when you arrive at the destination and the driver turns the waiting time off while waiting to be paid.

    Updating the fare in even increments harkens back to the days of mechanical meters when the mechanisms needed to calculate fares to fractions of a cent would have been unworkably complex. Ever since we’ve had electronic meters (since the 1970s) it’s been perfectly feasible to have a taxi meter update in 1 cent increments. The only reason we continue to have meters update in even increments is for convenience-namely so the driver doesn’t need to deal with pennies or other small change for cash fares. Nowadays this is moot since the bulk of cab fares are paid by credit cards or debit cards. Therefore, it might make sense to use one cent fare increments. If a driver loses on average half an increment for each fare ( or 25 cents in this case ), the end result can be a fairly nice chunk of lost money over a year.

    On another note, it’s actually waiting time if you’re moving at 6 mph or less, not 12 mph: http://www.nyc.gov/html/tlc/html/passenger/taxicab_rate.shtml

    Yes, this fare structure incents the type of behavior we observe. You’ll get paid the same amount to get to the next red light whether you creep there at 7 mph or gun it then slam on the brakes. However, if you arrive at the red light sooner by gunning it, you gain by being paid for more time standing still. The only way to fix this is with a fare structure which doesn’t go by distance until you’re well over the 30 mph speed limit. The downside here of being paid primarily by the hour is that drivers might have an incentive to “go the long way”, or drive really slowly (bad for the paying passenger but good from a safety perspective).

  • petercow

    A horn governor would be nice, too.

  • chekpeds

    so my driver goes 60 miles an hour and I pay nothing? Sounds great option for irresponsible passengers.

  • Tyler

    I’m sure they could easily earmark a special fund of say, $500, for all of these successful appeals. Hell, it could just come from the T&LC office break room coffee fund. 🙂

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Machines are fair. Excellent argument point for speed enforcement cameras. They don’t know if you’re a black guy in a Mercedes Benz or a white guy in a Volvo. They don’t know if you’re the mayor’s friend, and you can’t flash them a Police Benevolence Association card you bought on eBay.

  • Rick

    It’s great that mayor is making rules for the speed limit for the city. He should also inform the riders that THEY need to STOP being back seat driver which always confuses driver not only in CAB but also general. Cab driver can go wth the city speed limit it’s just that the riders/passengers are always running late to work or where ever they want to go putting pressure on the driver.

  • Rick

    Forgot to share one thing. As driving in the city for the past ten years I seen people on the phone crossing the street like they dum founded not knowing what the don’t walk or red light means. Either they on the phone talking or messaging while just walking in their lil world. Ofcourse they will get hit by a car. And it’s not always the drivers/cars, it’s also the pedestrians that think they can just walk anywhere they want to

  • Rick

    Lmao how about a free ride..

  • stevecrowell

    Wow, that was comprehensive!

  • stevecrowell

    Exactly, the long way around is bad business. Getting them in and out, then in again is the trick. A continuous line getting in one side door and getting out the other, with no miles travelled is best.

  • Ian Turner

    “Only about 7 or 8 percent of pedestrian and cyclist injuries were coded as being the fault of the victim.”
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/01/16/brattons-bad-data-on-pedestrian-injuries-wont-get-us-to-vision-zero/

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