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k. Unregulated Work in the taxi Industry in New York City

Taxis are a cornerstone of transportation in New York City, moving more than 240 million people a year and accounting for up to 25% of all travel in the city. e industry and its drivers are tightly regulated by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, which dictates all aspects of taxi operation, sets fares, issues licenses, imposes fines, and so forth. But at the same time, there are signifi- cant unregulated aspects to the industry. e majority of drivers are classified as independent contractors, are not protected by core employment and labor laws, and often work under arduous and unsafe conditions.

How the industry works

  • e taxi industry is currently made up of four different


  • Yellow Cabs dominate midtown and downtown Manhattan, with about 13,000 cabs on the street and about 25,000 active drivers. Drivers either lease their cabs from a corporate garage or broker, rent from an- other driver for a second shift, or become an owner- driver. Yellow cabs are metered and allowed to pick up passengers on the street.

  • Livery Cabs dominate uptown Manhattan and the outer boroughs. ere are at least 30,000 livery cab drivers; the majority own their vehicles, but affiliate with car services that dispatch cabs in response to cus- tomer calls for a weekly fee. Drivers often lease their cars to other drivers for a second shift. Livery cabs are not allowed to pick up passengers on the street, but in practice they often do.

  • Dollar Vans serve customers who do not live close to subway stops, largely in the outer boroughs. While the TLC website lists about 85 licensed commuter van ve- hicles, there are likely more operating without licenses. Most dollar van drivers are owners of their vehicles, and so pay all costs associated with operation.

  • Black cars provide business-class service to Wall Street firms and other corporations. ere are 11,000 to 12,000 black car drivers working for 42 major bases

in the city. Trips are largely business travel and often paid for through vouchers from companies.

The workers & mobility

  • e taxi industry is increasingly made up of immigrant

workers, and the large majority of drivers are men. Entry into the industry requires a TLC license, and yellow cab drivers are also required to take an 80-hour class and pass an exam covering geography, customer service and Eng- lish language skills. Drivers sometimes find jobs through newspaper or radio ads, but mostly through word of mouth and social networks. ey come to the industry from a wide range of other jobs, including janitors, car mechanics, construction workers, and professionals un- able to practice in the U.S. In spite of long shifts and hard working conditions, drivers value their autonomy, and while they may cycle in and out of the industry, long tenures are common. However, upward mobility within the industry is difficult; the only step up is to become an owner-driver, but the costs of making this transition are increasingly prohibitive.

Independent contractor status

  • e work lives of taxi drivers are profoundly shaped by

the fact that the majority are classified as independent contractors and are therefore excluded from most em- ployment and labor laws. (is has not prevented orga- nizing, however; about 7,000 of the 25,000 active yellow cab drivers belong to the New York Taxi Workers Alli- ance; see Section VI).

Drivers carry most of the costs of their job. For example, they pay for gas; daily or weekly leases; vehicle mainte- nance and repair; car registration and inspection; fines and fees; affiliation with dispatcher bases; and for owner- drivers, the cost of the car. But at the same time, drivers are heavily regulated by the Taxi & Limousine Commis- sion, which shapes almost all aspects of commerce in the industry. For example, it sets fares and lease rates; con-

Unregulated Work in the Global City, Brennan Center for Justice, 2007


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