Wellness

New York Taxi Drivers Fight Drowsy Driving Rule

City cabbies insist they know when to take a break.
Some New York taxi drivers claim they can safely drive more than 12 hours a day.
Some New York taxi drivers claim they can safely drive more than 12 hours a day.

NEW YORK -- Emotions ran high Thursday at a public hearing of the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission on a proposed rule to limit taxi driver shifts.

Dozens of taxi and livery cab drivers showed up at the commission's monthly meeting to protest the shift limits, which were designed to prevent fatigued driving. The family of an 88-year-old woman killed by a tired cab driver also showed up to deliver tearful testimony in support of the rule.

The new limits, announced last month, would cap shifts at 12 hours and total weekly labor at 72 hours. The commission will vote on them at its next meeting, on July 18.

Some drivers are worried the restrictions could cut into their income.

"What the commission calls 'fatigue reduction' rules really function as 'owner income reduction' rules," said Placida Robinson, an independent medallion taxi owner and driver, to loud applause at Thursday's hearing.

"We are one interest rate hike away from bankruptcy," she told HuffPost afterward. "We don't work this much because it's fun -- we absolutely need to."

Sergio Cabrera, another medallion taxi driver, suggested that under the new limits, many cabbies would choose to work six 12-hour days and take the seventh day off -- likely on a weekend. Competing services like Uber and Lyft could take advantage of that, he told HuffPost, by price gouging on days when fewer taxis were out on the streets.

"There's been a lot of comparison between us and long-haul truck drivers," he told HuffPost. "But taxi driving is not like trucking at all. It is highly stimulating and engaging, with much less risk of fatigue."

And when he feels tired, Cabrera said, he does not hesitate to take a 30-40 minute "power nap."

Commissioner Bill Aguado pointed out one difficulty with the new limits: that taxi drivers can't always plan out their hours in advance. Changes in weather, fluctuations in traffic and surprise events can suddenly increase the demand, and cabbies want to be driving when people need cabs.

Relatives of Luisa Rosario show their support for a proposal to limit drivers' hours at the Taxi and Limousine Commission's June 23 meeting.
Relatives of Luisa Rosario show their support for a proposal to limit drivers' hours at the Taxi and Limousine Commission's June 23 meeting.

An emotional statement from Dominican-American relatives of Luisa Rosario, delivered through an interpreter, offered a sharp counterpoint to the drivers' protests. Rosario was killed in November by a taxi driver who had been on duty for 16 hours, and her death spurred the taxi commission to act more quickly on the issue of fatigued driving.

"She was full of life, and she didn't deserve to go that way," Gladys Tejada, Rosario's 73-year-old daughter, told HuffPost. "No driver should be on the road as long as the one who killed her was. We fully support this rule."

Commissioner Meera Joshi staunchly defended the rules throughout the meeting and said they were backed up by a battery of research into the dangers of fatigued driving. She also said the commission's records show that only 3 percent of drivers would be affected by the proposed limits, because the vast majority of them already follow schedules within the rule.

"There are several things in competition with earning money," said Joshi at the hearing. "And one is safety."

Note: The Huffington Post’s editor-in-chief, Arianna Huffington, is a member of Uber’s board of directors and has recused herself from any involvement in the site’s coverage of the company.