As independent contractors, cab drivers are notoriously hard to organize. But on Tuesday, in conjunction with a board meeting of the Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA), hundreds of them waved signs, filled the seats of the meeting room, and circled City Hall honking their horns, all in protest of new MTA rules that drivers see as patently unfair.
The biggest objection: a five percent fee cabbies now must pony up on every fare paid with a credit card, a payment option they are required to offer. Most small businesses pay somewhere between 2.5%-3% on credit card transactions, and cabbies want to know why they are being charged more.
Additionally, they are upset that at the end of a shift, money from credit card fares—minus the 5% fee—gets deposited in a bank account. They can’t access that money for 24 to 48 hours, and when they do, withdrawal fees often apply.
Drivers want to be able to pass on these extra costs to passengers, but haven’t gotten a fare hike since 2003.
Another oft-repeated complaint was about the new electronic waybill, which is meant to keep better track of where drivers go and how much they get paid for each fare. Drivers don’t want their financial information transmitted through a third party and are worried that info will be sent to the IRS.
As driver after driver stood in front of the MTA Board to protest, one thing was clear: They may be regulated by the MTA, but they do not feel represented on the board. Many drivers claim the agency does not know the taxi industry and invited board members to drive a cab for a day to see what it’s like.
Tariq Mehmood organized the protest. He claims that on average in 2000 a “gate and gas” taxi driver—someone who rents a cab for ten hours–could make $200 per shift. Now the average is somewhere between $100-140 because the cost to rent the cab has gone up, as have gas prices and other fees, while meter rates have not.
Once taxi drivers took over the MTA meeting, there wasn’t much comment from anyone else about why the new regulations were passed. The MTA plans to hold two town hall style meetings on May 11th and 16th for more public comment before their May 17th Board meeting when MTA staff will present on the taxi issues. If no changes come out of that meeting, taxi drivers I spoke to said they would strike until they got at least some of what they demand.