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5/18/2006
Philadelphia Cabs Strike Against GPS Spying
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania cabs went on strike to protest the use of GPS units to track passenger movements and issue speeding tickets to cabbies.

Philadelphia cab
Over a thousand independent cab drivers went on strike Tuesday over a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania plan to impose global positioning system (GPS) tracking units on all taxis operating in the city. Representatives of drivers and owners rallied at city hall for more than four hours.

"[We] are sending a strong message today that taxi drivers are not slaves of the Parking Authority," said Ronald Blount, President of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. "We should have the right to choose what -- and who -- enters our cabs. By striking today, we are saying 'No!' to GPS."

The Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) last month gave a $4.1 million black box contract to Taxitronic Inc, a company that makes the "eTrack" GPS unit for $2600. According to Taxitronic's filing with the Philadelphia Parking Authority, eTrack "provides real time vehicle location (including address), direction, speed, status (vacant/hired), etc. The system... is capable of locating a single vehicle, a fleet, or any demographic/geographic parameter desired." Cab drivers would be stuck paying for installation, maintenance and $18 monthly fee for the device starting October 10.

The Taxi Workers Alliance complained that the city intended to use the devices to issue speeding tickets to drivers, "which will result in more fines against low-income workers who are barely making ends meet now."

The new system will also fundamentally change the way taxis operate in the city. Residents will no longer be able to hail a passing cab without first going through the dispatch system. Instead, the city will decide where cabs go and record the movements of individual passengers. The city will collect a $250 fine from any driver who refuses to go to a dangerous location in the city.

Blount cited evidence that the city's contract with Taxitronic was being pushed by powerful political donors. One of the parking authority officials responsible for the deal now works for Taxitronic. "I'm not saying that this was a 'pay-to-play' situation, but our research into the details of the awarding of this contract raises some serious ethical questions that the PPA needs to answer."

"It seems that everybody but the taxi drivers stand to make money off the GPS units," Blount said.



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