NEW YORK (PIX11) — Data recorders, also known as black boxes, are on all commercial aircrafts.
But a bill introduced Thursday in the New York City Council says that installing the information recording devices on yellow taxis will help to ensure that city traffic runs more slowly and cautiously, and would therefore help to save lives.
“It would try to get taxicabs to be part of the solution in this city,” said James “Jimmy” Vacca, (D) Bronx, the city councilmember who’s sponsoring the legislation. “I think they want to be and that most will be. They’re an important part of slowing people down.”
However, the head of the organization that represents the city’s 13,000 yellow cab drivers said that taxis are already helping, and that black boxes, whose information would be monitored by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, or TLC, would not necessarily improve the situation.
“According to the TLC’s, the city’s, and the state’s numbers,” said Bhairavi Desai, president of the Taxi Workers’ Alliance, “you’re safer in a taxi than any other vehicle in the city. So we want to make sure that [yellow cabs are] not being singled out.”
In contrast, Councilmember Vacca said, “I don’t think most cabbies would object to a little more oversight to make sure that they’re part of the solution.”
Cab drivers who spoke with PIX11 News were not warm to the proposal. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Ricky Huang, a driver at a gas station in SoHo. He feels that since all cabs are already required to have GPS devices, whose information is accessible by the TLC, there’s already enough monitoring of yellow taxis.
Still, Huang said that he would be willing to have a black box on his cab, conditionally.
“If you’re going to enforce putting a black box in a taxi,” said Huang, “the mayor should enforce jaywalking [laws] also.”
Serge Guillaume, another cabdriver, raised a concern that many cabdrivers share. “Are they going to send us summonses [if we’re caught speeding]?” he asked.
The bill does not say that additional summonses would be issued to cabdrivers. Vacca, its sponsor, said that his measure is designed to be part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to lower pedestrian deaths and injuries by slowing all vehicles down, including taxicabs.
“I think if you speak to many New Yorkers,” said Vacca, “that they will agree with me that taxis are part of the problem.”
“I’m supporting it,” said a passenger who only gave his first name, John. He’d just emerged from a cab at Penn Station when he spoke with PIX11 News. “[Speeding] is really becoming a problem, in my view.”
John was, however, in the minority of passengers who spoke with PIX11 News.
“Why would [it] be necessary?” asked taxi passenger Kieran Callanain about the black box proposal. “I don’t think so.”
Tracy Myers had also just emerged from a cab at Penn Station when she spoke with PIX11 News. “My opinion is it’s kind of a waste of money,” Myers said. “Do you have money to throw around to put black boxes on cabs? I ride cabs in New York all the time, and I always feel safe.”
Vacca’s bill did not specify how the black boxes will be paid for. Those kinds of details are likely to be worked out in committee hearings and revisions.
If the measure is approved by committee, it would then have to be debated by the full council, and later voted on.
It’s a long process. What may take too long, actually, is universal event data recorder use. Currently, nearly 90 percent of all new cars have the black boxes installed. As the yellow taxicab fleet ages and gets replaced, it’s extremely likely that each new vehicle will have a black box, whether it’s required or not.
Still, Councilmember Vacca says that his legislation is needed “to make sure everyone buys into this.” The last three years have seen steady increases in the number of pedestrian deaths due to collisions with cars. There were 156 such fatalities in 2013.
“My message to New Yorkers,” said Vacca, “is to slow down.”