Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Unknown to many, driving taxis is one of the most dangerous professions. Taxi workers face much abuse and poor rewards for their work, such was the topic of discussion sponsored by DESHI and the IC. Yesterday evening at 7:00 in Science Center 199, Bhairavi Desai and a committee of the NY and Pennsylvania’s Taxi Worker Alliance spoke to students about the less publicized plight of taxi workers. Desai formed the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) eight years ago to serve as an independent service to publicize and incite change regarding the lack of security and other problems of taxi drivers.
Taxi drivers generally represent a largely disadvantaged community. There are 100,000 cab drivers in New York City and 90 per cent are immigrants of color. South Asians are largely represented among the work force of taxi-cab drivers. Close to 60 per cent of cab drivers are from either an Indian, Pakistani, or Bangladeshi background.
Often, taxi cab drivers are victims of hate crimes. Desai described many instances of assaults on To make students aware of the seriousness of the problem, Desai exposed the story of Muhammed Alamin, a Muslim who was punched and severely beaten. Other instances such as that of cab driver Shahjid Kumar resulted in a coma for three months.
Besides hate crimes, taxi cab workers are put into other dangerous conditions. The type of car driven by taxi drivers, the Crown Victoria has an unsafe design which can cause the fuel tank and axle to burst into flames too easily. Gurbaj Singh, an Indian immigrant was hit by a drunk driver, causing the car to burst into flames, Singh was killed instantly. Saddening the audience, Singh was only days away from seeing his family after thirteen years, but the next time he was seen by his family was at his funeral.
Despite this flaw, even after lawsuits against Ford, the producer of the Crown Victoria, Ford was still able to evade changing the design of the car. “Ford has a monopoly over the production of cabs, it’s easy for big corporations to get away with wrongdoings,” said Desai. Surprising to many, cab drivers are sixty per cent more likely to be killed on the job than even policemen and firefighters.
Most workers do not begin the day in the red, yet taxi cab drivers do. Leasing a taxi each day costs a steep $120. “So, during their 12 hour shifts, about 6 or 7 hours are just spent giving back to the owners of the taxi companies, only a few hours of work represent their actual income,” adds Desai.
In addition to low income, cab drivers have no guaranteed wages, health insurance, or pension. Cab drivers are faced with many regulations, which often result in more profits of the owners. “The rules often claim to be protecting the passengers, but out of 200 rules, only 3 rules have to deal with moving violations, most have to do with when the cab is standing still,” adds Desai.
To change the conditions of drivers, the NYTWA is working on a safety campaign which would reinforce to the public that assaulting taxi drivers is a crime. Desai also urges students to create change situations as “you guys are the workers of tomorrow, it’s important to fight for justice and unleash the power of workers,” comments Desai.