Pity the poor New York cabbie.
He goes on strike, and much of the metropolis shrugs – even some other cab drivers.
"It's work; you have to do it," says taxi driver Mahmood Shahib, who decided to work today despite the strike. "But I do feel a little bad."
The two-day protest is in response to the mandatory installation of high-tech equipment like GPS monitors that can pinpoint a cab at a moment's notice, and credit card machines. As Wednesday's rush hour began, it was unclear whether the strike was having much impact at all. Lines for cabs at the region's three airports were a bit longer, and main arteries like 42nd Street weren't clogged as usual with yellow cabs. But New Yorkers didn't seem to mind, most commuters who needed a taxi eventually got one.
"I left my hotel and a cab pulled right up," says John Finnigan, a businessman in town from Atlanta. "I was pleasantly surprised."
The strike was called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents about a fifth of the city's taxis drivers. Their gripes in a nutshell: The GPS is faulty technology that shuts down meters intermittently and invades privacy – "electronic anklets," in the words of Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the Alliance. And the credit card machines could leave cabbies stuck paying a surcharge fee.
"Today drivers have stood up for unity, stood up for themselves," says Ms. Desai.
As Wednesday's morning rush hour wound down, Desai estimated that only 10 percent of the city's 13,000 cabs were on the streets picking up passengers. But those numbers were disputed by a rival taxi organization, the Federation of Taxi Drivers that opposed the strike from the start. Its president, Fernando Mateo, told the cable news channel NY1 that 80 percent of the city's cabs were working.
"Only the 20 percent radicals are out protesting because they want things their way," says Mr. Mateo. "We're not strike breakers, we're people that understand that if you're going to serve the city, you serve the city in the right way."
Both the installation of the GPS and the credit card machines were agreed to in negotiations with the Taxi and Limousine Commission in exchange for a fare hike earlier this year. The TLC insists it wants the GPS only to help passengers locate lost items and to automate record keeping. To help cope with the strike, the city instituted a zone system that allows cabs to pick up more than one person and charge a flat fee.
While the dispute goes on, most New Yorkers seemed to get around just fine. In fact, truck driver Dean Milliner looked across 42nd Street where traffic was flowing freely and mused aloud that he'd like strike to go on a bit longer.
"Normally, the traffic's a nightmare, today it's lovely," he says. "I can get around, one, two, three."