NYC Eyes Plans to Prod Taxis to Take it Slower

NEW YORK (AP) -

Perpetually rushed New Yorkers have been telling cabbies to “step on it” for as long as there have been taxis, but the city wants to brake that hurry-up habit, in part by attacking the financial incentive to speed.

Cabs could be outfitted with black-box-style data recorders and devices that would sound warnings — or even pause the fare meter — for going too fast, even as speed limits on most city streets would drop from 30 to 25 mph.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made the proposals as part of his broader safe-streets plan, says drivers of New York’s signature yellow cabs rightly should play a particular role in his push to curb traffic crashes.

“They set the tone on our streets,” de Blasio said.

While traffic advocates applaud the ideas, they are getting a bumpy reception at taxi stands. Cabbies fear friction with passengers and feel they’re being scapegoated, and riders say they’re torn between the drive for safety and the need for speed.

“When I’m in a rush, anything is appreciated,” New Yorker Emily Baltimore said as she waited in a cab line outside Penn Station this week.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission says it is still exploring the ideas, which would require a range of approvals. The traffic safety plan also includes more taxi-rule enforcers, stiffer penalties for cabbies’ driving violations and many provisions aimed at all cars, not just taxis.

Deadly auto wrecks have dropped sharply in the nation’s biggest city, from 701 in 1990 to an all-time low of 249 in 2011, as officials redesigned dangerous intersections and made other changes. But recent pedestrian deaths have pushed the issue to the forefront.

Cabbies feel de Blasio unduly singles them out for scrutiny, a sentiment hardly lessened when a news camera caught the mayor’s official, police-driven vehicle speeding two days after he unveiled the plan. And taxi drivers and owners fear slowing down could mean losing business.

“People want to go, hurry, because they don’t have a lot of time. They spend money to save the time,” says Jawad Habib, a cabbie for 21 years who says he makes sure to know traffic rules. He fears a lower speed limit could lengthen taxi trips enough that ’s going to want to sit in the cab? … They’ll go to the bus.”

Meanwhile, cabbie Yick Li relies on his own anti-speeding system: himself.

After 32 years behind a taxi wheel, he simply says no if a passenger urges him to speed or break other rules. Some riders gripe, he said, but many understand.

“They sit back, relax, let us do the driving.”