New York taxi drivers are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, cab drivers and chauffeurs accounted for 53 of the 4,405 Americans killed on the job in 2013. Their workplace fatality rate is 130 percent higher than the national average. And in New York, eight cabbies were assaulted in 2014, according to data from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
That’s why drivers rallied in front of City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, urging the City Council to pass a bill that would require that signs be posted in all city-licensed taxis to remind passengers that assaulting a cab driver could land them in jail. For a long time. The signs, as suggested by the council bill, would read:
ASSAULTING A TAXI OR LIVERY DRIVER IS PUNISHABLE BY UP TO 25 YEARS IN PRISON.
Mamnun Ul Haq, a co-founder of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which has lobbied the council to push for the signs, was joined at the rally by other drivers and councilmembers who supported the bill. He says the idea to propose the signs came to him in a hospital bed as he recovered from being stabbed on the job: “I can’t even tell you how painful it was,” he tells the Voice.
Ul Haq said during the rally that he remembered being scared, but that he stayed cool, grabbing on to the knife in his back, closing the glass partition behind him, and driving a few more blocks so as to be able to pull over safely.
“Cab drivers are going through all these things, taking these risks,” he says. “[The bill] doesn’t mean that crime will go to zero. But at least the person will think twice.”
Illinois, California, and Pennsylvania already have signs in cabs that remind passengers of the hefty penalties for assaulting a cab driver, according to a New York Taxi Workers Alliance press release. Ronald Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, says that he has seen the signs work.
“Definitely, it’s had a tremendous effect,” says Blount via telephone from Philadelphia. In 2013, the city experienced a rash of violence against drivers, leaving one cabbie dead.
“Assaults, they were like at least once every week,” he says. “Since [getting the signs], it’s probably like once every two or three months a driver experiences being attacked by a customer or just a member of the public.”
The New York City Council’s Transportation Committee voted nearly unanimously in favor of the bill, which was introduced in February.
Rory Lancman, who sponsored the bill, proposed the city-wide rule after failing to get similar legislation passed as an assemblyman in New York State. “These folks have really dangerous jobs,” he says. “If we can get people to…have one last thought about the consequences, we’re going to be able to deter them from assaulting and attacking these drivers.”
The bill is slated to be voted on today by the full council. Lancman and other City Hall observers say they expect the measure to pass.