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Little response to New York taxi strike call


New York : The second strike in two months by New York taxi drivers led by an Indian origin union leader to protest installation of global positioning devices (GPS) and credit card readers had a lukewarm response Monday.

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (TWA), estimated the number of striking drivers to be 60 percent, but the local news media put the number at no more than five percent.

Desai, who led a much more successful two-day strike early last month, admitted: “We need to regroup given that it was not the majority that we have looked for. We also realise that drivers are in such economic trouble so it’s very difficult for them.”

The main issue in the two strikes has been the new city regulations for taxis effective from January next. The city says the navigation system will let passengers know where they are. The drivers feel it is an invasion of their privacy.

The city says credit card payments will be a convenience for riders. The drivers argue they have to pay a five percent fee for every transaction and they stand to lose the fare if the credit card processing malfunctions. Besides, the devices cost over $5,000 to install.

About 60 percent of the over 40,000 licensed taxi drivers in the city are known to be of South Asian origin. TWA’s membership is around 7,000.

Profiled by Time magazine, Desai joined the TWA 10 years ago, and since has been fighting unfair regulations and bringing changes to the lives of the cabbies, but this has often pitted her against the New York establishment.

In 1998, she organised the largest one-day taxi strike in the city’s history, over low pay and long hours for the drivers.