STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Cab drivers in Philadelphia are threatening to go on strike. That's after a court upheld a plan by the Philadelphia Parking Authority.
It wants to install global positioning tracking systems in taxis. The Parking Authority says that with GPS units installed, cab drivers would not be able to tell dispatchers they're in one location when they're really somewhere else.
Cab drivers argue that their privacy would be violated, not to mention the privacy of their clients.
We've called Ronald Blount. He's president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, and he's come by the studios in Philadelphia. Mr. Blount, welcome to the program.
Mr. RONALD BLOUNT (President, Taxi Workers Alliance, Pennsylvania): Thank you. Thank you for having us.
INSKEEP: How'd you get there, by the way?
Mr. BLOUNT: I drove my private car. My taxi, they installed a GPS already, and I refuse to drive it.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what that system is. Do you actually have an electronic map in front of you inside the car that tells you or helps you to know where to go?
Mr. BLOUNT: Well, they do have a navigation part of it, but it takes, like, two to four minutes to boot it up. So when I get a customer in my cab that wants to go from A to B and I want to use the navigation system, it takes four minutes. The customer is going to get out of my cab and go into another cab who's not going to go through that trouble.
INSKEEP: Hmm. Now, is that the only concern that you have?
Mr. BLOUNT: Well, the main thing is the privacy. When I wake up in the morning and get my cup of coffee, in the afternoon I go to the AA meetings, in the evenings when I go to the mosque and pray, and at night when I go to my girlfriend's house, they're following me wherever I go. Pretty soon what happens is I stop going to AA meetings. I stop going to the mosque, because I don't want them to know where I'm going at.
We lease these cabs for 12 hours per shift. Out of those 12 hours, I may have a customer in my cab maybe three and a half hours out of the twelve. The other eight hours they're following me for no reason.
INSKEEP: You know, you mention the GPS system taking a couple of minutes to load up. I've been in cars with these systems, and once they're up, they're up, and you've got a map of the city. Why does it take extra time for every single fare?
Mr. BLOUNT: This is a 10-year-old system that they're putting in and charging us $2,600 dollars. But this system is old. It's outdated. The system crashed, like, maybe a month ago in a test pilot program. And when the system crashed, none of the cabs could work because their meters were off, the navigation system was off. So when you put all 1,600 cabs in this system and it crashes - and it will crash - the whole city is going to be without taxi service.
INSKEEP: Is there some benefit to customers, especially with new taxi drivers who maybe don't know the city that well, they've got a map right there.
Mr. BLOUNT: Navigation systems don't always take you the right way. And it doesn't avoid traffic. And it doesn't avoid accident scenes, you know? And for a person that has to get to the airport in 15 minutes, that navigation system won't get you there in 45 minutes.
I challenge you. I can find any address on a map faster than you can find in this 10-year-old navigation system.
INSKEEP: So a smart cabbie is still better than a navigation system, in your view.
Mr. BLOUNT: Absolutely.
INSKEEP: Ronald Blount is president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia cab drivers are considering whether to go on strike.
Thanks very much.
Mr. BLOUNT: Thank you for your time.
INSKEEP: You know, Frank Langfitt, NPR's labor and workplace correspondent, used to be a taxi driver. And you can read his wheel-life account of the job at npr.org.
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