by Al Sacco

NYC Taxi Cab Drivers Up in Arms Over Tracking Tech: “GPS is a BAD Deal”

Jul 25, 20073 mins
Enterprise Applications

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), a group representing some 8,400 members in the Empire State, is less than pleased with the city’s plan to install GPS tracking devices in its fleet of taxis, according to a report.

The city announced the plans to install the new equipment months ago and NYTWA has been against it from the get go, claiming the GPS devices would invade its members’ privacy, cost too much to install and maintain, and that passengers would likely break them anyway.

From the NYTWA website:

“GPS is a computer software which will be attached to the taxi meter and track the taxi. GPS will automatically tell the TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission] where you were at what time, how many fares/trips per shift, when you’re off-duty and how much money you’ve made. TLC’s GPS in taxis will NOT be able to navigate/give directions. A monitor with a control switch will be installed in the back seat, playing ads for the customer. If the passenger vandalizes the monitor, You will get the ticket. If the GPS breaks down, your meter will be shut OFF.”


Various news reports—including the Daily News post—say TLC claims the devices are meant to help drivers navigate, so I’m assuming driving directions will be available, regardless of the statement on the NYTWA’s site. If not, I completely understand the cabbies’ concern. After all, many of these folks have been driving cabs for years and getting along just fine. Then the city tells them they’ve got to pay so that their every move can be monitored.

I recently reviewed a mobile phone-based GPS tracking service called TeleNav Track, and one of the first things I investigated when the company sent me a review unit was whether or not I could turn off the tracking functionality whenever I wanted. TeleNav Track administrators can allow or block users’ ability to turn off the service’s tracking capabilities. I imagine the devices NYC’s TLC wants to install can be shut off by administrators, but drivers won’t likely have the ability to turn off the GPS tracking themselves. That means they could potentially be monitored outside of business hours and there would be no way for them to know who’s watching them and when.

The NYTWA is expected to warn the city today that the installation of GPS tracking devices will leave them no choice but to strike on September 1, according to the Daily News. A mass of cabbies congregated around Penn Station yesterday and the vast majority said they’d strike if the city goes through with its plan.

If your boss came up to you today and told you that you had to briefly surrender your company-issued smartphone so monitoring software like TeleNav Track could be installed, would you hand it over without hesitation? Of course, this situation is different than the one the NYC cabbies are facing but the privacy issue remains.

Are the cabbies in the wrong? Or is the city just throwing its weight around?