Taxi Driver Rep Bhairavi Desai: Speed Enforcement Is a Government Scam

The Times ran a story yesterday on the supposedly improving outlook for state speed camera legislation. The bills have failed to gain traction in Albany for several years running and have yet to clear either house this session, though the Senate version has picked up a sponsor in Staten Island Republican Andrew Lanza.

This 2009 Upper West Side crash injured the cab driver, his passenger, and a pedestrian. Witnesses said the cabbie was speeding when he careened onto a traffic island and slammed into the 72nd Street subway station. Photo: Lisa Sladkus

Speeding-related crashes killed 71 people in New York City in 2009, and injured 3,739. Cameras reduce the number of drivers speeding by 10+ mph by up to 88 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Speed cameras have the endorsement of NYPD, NYC DOT, and the city’s Department of Health.

Times reporter Matt Flegenheimer devotes three actual paragraphs to the benefits of automated enforcement. And then:

Still, some drivers said they retained a certain romantic attachment to the rare interactions with officers and their radar guns; the surge of pride derived from talking one’s way out of a ticket; the tacit kinship forged between drivers who slow in unison at the sight of a patrol car in the distance.

For the second half of his 1,000-word story, Flegenheimer talks to a random motorist who is skeptical that speeding is “truly dangerous” to pedestrians, along with a city cab driver and a chauffeur who, we are told, need to speed in order to avoid the wrath of their well-heeled passengers.

Then there’s Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, who believes speed cameras are “simply another tactic to raise revenue for the city.”

Ms. Desai said many cabdrivers had received bus-lane violations after performing what they thought were legal pickups or drop-offs in bus lanes.

“With a camera, who do you argue against?” she said.

So to hear Ms. Desai tell it, the problem with speeding cabbies is that they sometimes get caught.

You would think that someone who gets paid to advocate for the well-being of cab drivers would understand that, in addition to pedestrians, bus riders, restaurant patrons and school kids, speeding cabbies also pose a danger to themselves. The fact is that, with thousands of New York City drivers and passengers killed and injured in speeding-related crashes each year, any driver who argues against speed enforcement is arguing against his or her own safety.

  • Anonymous

    This woman is on the wrong side of every single traffic safety issue. She’s quoted in virtually any news story about something that could possible pose any little inconvenience for taxi drivers, thousands of whom routinely break traffic laws. I’m sure this city’s cabbies take heart in knowing she puts a few seconds of inconvenience for them over the lives of pedestrians and cyclists on our streets.

  • Anonymous

    “…any driver who argues against speed enforcement is arguing against his or her own safety.”
    As I understand it, all hack licenses start with the numbers 007, the license to kill.  That includes the license to kill themselves too.   Really….

    I never could understand driver’s arguments that they prefer to argue with a cop rather than with a camera.  But then, arguing with a man with a gun fits right into the 007 image.
    Take that Mr. Goldfinger!

  • Let’s just come out and say it:

    The culture of taxi drivers is rotten from the inside-out.

    The existence of a few “nice drivers”… I’ve had them and appreciated them!… is not proof that the situation is going to be ok. It’s not ok at all. It’s a difficult job requiring really responsible operators. And yet we know that, from the way so many of them speak, act, respond to external stimuli, so many of them are NOT responsible. 

    This is because the medallion owners are not responsible, either. They’ve created for themselves a system that stuffs their pockets while putting barely-trained operators behind the wheels of heavy vehicles with the pressure to act aggressively in order to make a living wage. That translates into behavior that is constantly illegal, dangerous, and poorly service-oriented. 

    Our taxi system is a joke, and it stands out from other cities as such.

    We should stop viewing it as a mystical profession whose “charm” and curiosity excuses all faults, and start fixing the damn problems, regardless of how loud the medallion lobbyists scream. That’s the first step: continuing to expose these lobbyists, with all of the City Council’s hands in their pockets, for what they really are – merchants of death and suffering.

  • Metro Desk Assignment Editor

    “The tacit kinship forged between drivers who slow in unison at the sight of a patrol car in the distance.”

    Ah, yes, the romance and brotherhood of driving your motor vehicle like a sociopath, with total disregard for the safety of all of those around you in a crowded city. Only the New York Times Metro section could come up with a pile of rubbish like this. In other news, a four-year-old boy was run over and killed in the Bronx yesterday by a speeding mini-van. 

  • Mark Walker

    “With a camera, who do you argue against?” is as good an argument in favor of red-light cameras as any I’ve ever heard.

  • Anonymous

    Taxi drivers are a special subset of the speeding problem, because they have economic incentives speed and drive recklessly.
    For drivers of private cars, many spend a lot of time driving on limited access highways where speed limits are often set too low.  These roads are designed to accommodate vehicle speeds significantly higher than the speed limit, and speed enforcement therefore can seem like an arbitrary way to punish drivers.
    Driving on city streets is entirely different, as the reality of shared roads and high population density requires much lower speeds for safe driving.
    If anything, it would make sense to shift speed enforcement resources away from limited access highways and to increase enforcement on city surface roads.

  • Smile for the camera

    You have to love the either/or framing in the Times piece, too.  They quote one driver who “acknowledged the difficulty of even approaching 40 m.p.h. on many city streets” but who also “wondered whether speeding was truly dangerous along desolate stretches where pedestrian traffic can be minimal at certain hours.”

    Fantastic logic.  Firing a gun willy-nilly isn’t illegal only if you do it in a “desolate stretch.”  The moral relativism of drivers–and the willingness of the Times to quote them without challenge–astounds.

  • KillMoto

    New taxis hit the streets soon.
    All should have hard-wired telemetry, limiting their top speed and acceleration.  Heck, equip them with RADAR and have a hardware-enforced safe following distance baked right in, too.  In the event of a collision, event-recorder data for the minutes leading up to the wreck is transmitted over unencrypted WIFI for the next 24 hours, such that anyone within range can record the data and use it for criminal investigation, insurance purposes, statistics gathering or safe streets advocacy.  Well-heeled passengers would simply have to deal with it… the driver won’t be able to speed even if s/he wants to.  
    This is my dream.  21st century makes implementation of such a thing trivial.  Backwards culture stands in the way. 

  • Jeff

    They should literally just honk in lieu of these public statements.  Basically conveys the same message.

  • While I agree on the safety issue, it might be worth asking why taxidrivers discount their safety versus a few minutes saved in time.  You might consider that taxidrivers make 25% LESS than they did in 2006 and have not had a real raise since 2004.   They already are barely able to support themselves and their families, so those extra minutes are the margin of feeding and taking care of their families.

    So maybe those interested in taxi safety might combine an enforcement agenda, including tickets, with a push to raise the wages of taxi drivers to accomodate the burden.  That way, the good drivers will get to pocket the raise if they follow traffic rules, a positive incentive for better enforcement rather than making it a purely punitive approach that just makes already low-wage taxi drivers poorer.

  • Jonorcutt

    Desai was also against: 

    – credit card machines in cabs, which have increased tips for drivers

    – changes on Broadway in Midtown, which has completely eliminated the bad north-bound bottleneck on 6th Ave at Herald Square

    – congestion pricing, which would have improved cab travel throughout the CBD

  • Anonymous

    I’m surprised no one has commented on the strange decision to make these speeding tickets cheaper than a parking ticket. Most parking tickets are $65 or $115;* compare that with the proposed fines for speeding: $50 for going 10 mph over the limit, and $100 for exceeding it by more than 30 mph! (Or compare it with the $270 fine for running a red light on your bike in Central Park…)


  • bill b

    Maybe the city should lower the street speed limit to 25 mph. We live in a crowded city ,drivers need to slow down. 
    As for taxi drivers obeying the speed limit , one word impossible. They make their money by dropping the flag which means the more fares they pick up the more they earn. Drove a cab several years ago and most fares would give you a hard time if you drove the  30 mph speed limit . Fares would complain that they were in a hurry and for me to speed up even if I was already over the speed limit.
    Maybe NYC needs look into this  taxis industry. Do we need thousands of cabs which put their $500,000 plus, yellow medallion ahead of safety .

  • Ben Kintisch

    Perhaps the Times editors have had a conversation with their subscriptions department: They might just tell them that the folks who are still paying for a full-price paper subscription fit the following description – older, car-driving and/or taxi-riding, wealthy, perhaps suburban. These folks like the transportation coverage just fine!

  • Anonymous

     along with a city cab driver and a chauffeur who, we are told, need to speed in order to avoid the wrath of their well-heeled passengers.”
    I try not to take cabs for this very reason (in fact I have never taken one alone).  I get a very strong sense of guilt and despair when I pay a manic to speed through city streets and put people in danger.  Taxis and limos are probably the most terrifying thing on the street, always speeding, always changing lanes unnecessarily, and the quickest to honk at whoever for whatever whenever.They suck.

  • Joe R.

    As with many things, this issue isn’t quite as black and white as it seems. I can’t defend driving 50 mph on local streets with cyclists and pedestrians. It’s on these local streets where speed limit enforcement really could serve a valid safety function. At the same time, anyone who has ever drove, or even ridden as a passenger, on limited access highways realizes highway speed limits are for the most part set way too low, and hence serve more a revenue function than a safety function. Look for example at the 65 mph limit on the NYS Thruway. Speed limits on limited access highways for years were set at the 95th percentile. Now they often cannot be because many states have arbitrary maximum speed limits, such as 65 mph in New York. The 95th percentile speed on the Thruway is probably in excess of 80 mph, and so should be the speed limit. This is one example but the same pattern can be seen on the majority of limited access highways. Since these highways are already the safest roads to travel on, despite the fact that most drivers are well above the speed limit, there can be no argument that the speed limit is for safety. Rather, it seems to serve a purely revenue function here, at least on days when the police decide to enforce it. I’d much rather that speed enforcement resources be spent on local streets where it can result in many lives saved.

  • Anonymous

    @Brownstone2:disqus  The trouble with arguing against a camera is that it always shows up to court and it actually have proof, concrete evidence of your malfeasance. 

  • Ian Turner

    @51a66bdca19c80b7361b6d198cbb3ebc:disqus : One conclusion I draw from this is that those of us who do want our cab drivers to drive safely need to speak up, lest drivers make assumptions.

    Also, it might be appropriate to lower the social cost of speaking up through encouragements on Taxi TV or whatever: “Is your driver going too fast? Tell him!”

  • Bhairavi Desai

    Here is a good read on it :

  • Bhairavi Desai

    How about the views on Marxism and Palestine solidarity movement:

  • E.T.

    Higher fines would deter people, thus no income for city/state!!!

  • E.T.

    You dont take cabs , do you?..:)


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