The Indo-Asian News Service is justly proud of Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance in this Sept. 5 account. New York City is fast becoming a laboratory for the new surveillance state, and the heroic taxi drivers are in the vanguard of the resistance:
Bhairavi Desai leads taxi strike in New York
Fewer taxis were seen on the roads in New York and it was taking longer to hail one as the two-day strike by a section of the city’s 13,000 cab drivers started on Wednesday morning. Drivers of yellow cabs—about 60 per cent of them are South Asian—have been protesting the installation of GPS software and credit card readers by the government.
he strike has been organised by the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, which claims to represent 7,000 taxi drivers. Advocating the cabbies’ cause in the media is the Alliance’s executive director, Bhairavi Desai.
Profiled by Time magazine and named by Ms Foundation as one of 10 female role models, Desai’s work with the Alliance has gone on for more than a decade, bringing changes to the lives of the cabbies, but often pitting her against the New York establishment.
In 1998, she organised the largest one-day taxi strike in city’s history, over low pay and long hours for the drivers. She was able to unite Indian and Pakistani drivers despite the tensions on the subcontinent because of nuclear tests by India and Pakistan.
The history and women’s studies graduate from Rutgers University, 36-year-old Desai lives in New Jersey.
While Mayor Michael Bloomberg has downplayed the likelihood of a widespread disruption by the taxi strike, the city has empowered taxis to pick up multiple passengers and the transit system has added some buses.
A rival cabbies coalition, the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers, has mounted a counterstrike operation. It sent dozens of volunteers to taxi stands at the city’s airports and the main rail terminal asking drivers not to join the stoppage.
At issue is a requirement for the installation in each cab of a high-tech system that permits credit card payments, has a touch-screen monitor that lets passengers watch television and follow their ride on an electronic map, and includes a global positioning device, which tracks the cabs’ travels. In exchange, the transport authorities agreed to raise fares by 26 per cent.
Drivers, however, have said that the global positioning device and automated system recording each trip are too invasive, and that transaction fees charged by credit card companies eat into their profits. The system can also delay the start of their metres because drivers must log on before every fare, they said.
The drivers also said the TV monitor at the back of their seat heats up after a few hours of use and the constant sound of the television can be disorienting.