By Gina Martinez
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) went to Albany last week to push for the passing of the Taxi Driver Protection Act.
Kim was joined March 13 by Assemblymen David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) and Brian Barnwell (D-Maspeth), as well as the Bangladeshi American Advocacy Group, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and over 100 community advocates and constituents at the state Capitol.
Together, they spoke about the importance of passing the bill in order to better protect for-hire drivers for this year’s session, after it passed the Senate, but failed to make it through the Assembly in 2017.
Kim has advocated for the introduction of an amendment to the Taxi Driver Protection Act that would stiffen punishments for anyone who attacks on-the-job taxi drivers.
According to Kim, the increasing number of attacks by passengers on taxi and for-hire drivers has brought greater attention to the dangers of the job. By changing the Penal Law, Kim’s amended legislation would raise the penalty for assaulting a taxi driver from a misdemeanor to a felony. The legislation would also add for-hire driving to a list of protected occupations, which currently includes public transportation workers.
A second provision of the bill would require adding signs in taxis and for-hire cars that inform passengers of the legal consequences of assaulting drivers. While this law already exists in New York City, Kim’s amendment would extend it to the rest of the state.
Just last week in Kim’s district an Uber driver was assaulted by three passengers. According to police, on March 9 at 4 a.m. a 35-year-old Uber driver picked up three passengers at 32-17 College Point Blvd. Police said the passengers began arguing with the driver once he realized the three were not his arranged customers. According to police, the driver pulled over and got out of the car demanding they get out, too, when he was almost punched in the face. Police said one of the passengers got into the driver’s seat and the three drove away in his car to an unknown location.
Last April, Kim held a press conference in Flushing with victims of assault who talked about their experiences. According to Kim, a large percentage of for-hire drivers in New York are South Asian, and 55 percent of cab drivers in New York City are from Queens. The accounts of the victims’ ordeals suggested race or religion may have been a factor in the violence. Victims who spoke about their attacks said the common connection was that the passengers asked them where they were from before they were assaulted.
Kim said studies have shown that for-hire drivers, including Uber and Lyft drivers, are 20 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average worker. New York is home to the country’s largest total number and concentration of taxis in the entire country, so Kim and fellow legislators argued that the state must take action to ensure the safety of its drivers.
“This bill, which previously passed the Senate but languished in the Assembly extends protections already given to our bus and train operators by making it a felony to assault drivers,” Kim said. “The surge in drivers and riders using apps like Uber and Lyft means we must move fast to protect those in danger. I urge my colleagues to take this bill up and protect the people whose work helps define the very character of our city and state.”
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance — which has a membership of 20,000 and represents more than 50,000 taxicab drivers in New York — said he was proud to stand with Kim in support of this legislation.
“In addition to the specific protections the Taxi Driver Protection Act provides, the passage of this act is a show of support for one of New York’s most visible immigrant work forces,” he said. “We call on the Assembly to pass this legislation and protect drivers across New York state.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart