OPINION: For safer streets, pay taxi drivers by the hour
Some years ago, my wife and I took a class together. What I remember most, however, was not the class, but the hair-raising cab rides home. Most of the time, the cabbies went over the speed limit, sometimes alarmingly so. Sometimes they went through red lights. I found myself holding onto the plastic strap near the passenger seat, scared out of my wits, more than once.
I’ve also had occasion, from time to time, to ride cars from “black car” limo services. It’s a world of difference. Those guys basically proceed through traffic at a reasonable pace. If they go a little too fast, it’s only a LITTLE too fast. They don’t try to run the light or put their foot at the floor just after the light changes like they were running a race at the Indy 500.
What’s the difference? It’s very simple. I don’t know how “black car” limo drivers are paid, but I do know how yellow-cab drivers are paid. They’re paid by the trip. After they hand in their trip sheet for the day, they keep a certain amount of the money they earned – say, 45 percent – and the rest goes to the cab company or the taxi medallion owner.
Thus, it’s in cab drivers’ interests to make as many trips as he can during the day so they can make more money. The only way they can do this is to go as fast as possible, so they can discharge their passengers and then pick up the next fares. This naturally leads to violations and unsafe driving habits. I’ve seen cab drivers accidentally slamming into other cars more than once.
The fact that some cabbies are immigrants from countries where laws and regulations are routinely ignored may also be a factor, but it’s a small factor—as far as I’m concerned, the system that rewards drivers for going as fast as possible is the main culprit. To make more money, cab drivers can also request fare hikes, but this puts them at odds with most New York City residents.
It would be a lot safer to pay cab drivers by the hour, I believe. Sure, those drivers who are real “hustlers” and know how to work the game might protest. But sooner or later, drivers would come to like the idea of getting a guaranteed salary. If they want a little extra, there are always tips. Other New Yorkers, whether pedestrians or drivers, would be the ultimate winners.
With their salaries guaranteed, drivers would be under less pressure. They wouldn’t have to speed up and cross three lanes to pick up a fare as if their life depended on it. The owners might protest that this isn’t fair to them – after all, unscrupulous drivers might take a few hours off, go to the beach or a movie, then come back to pick up their paycheck without doing any work. But in this day and age of electronic monitoring, there’s surely some way of ensuring that cabbies spend most of their time on the road.
Very many cab drivers, I’m sure, DO drive safely. But I’ve had enough experiences with those who don’t. Give them a reason why they won’t have to speed through busy city streets, and most will surely comply.
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