Starting next month, all taxi drivers in NYC will have the option of installing a security camera in place of the scratchy, foggy plastic partition that separates the majority of yellow cab drivers from their passengers. According to the TLC, cameras are better than plastic barriers at deterring passengers from verbally abusing drivers, or fare jumping. In-cab cameras also help the NYPD investigate crimes.
But TLC board members also said on Thursday that taking down the barrier could help drivers appear more friendly.
"I think this is a great rule," said TLC board member Nora Marino at a Board meeting on Thursday. "I've heard drivers say that one of their problems with competing with other aspects of the industry is that there's no partition, so the drivers can be more social with the passengers, and yellows are prevented from being social. It impacts their tips."
Current regulations require either a partition or a security camera in street-hail liveries. Black cars and app services like Uber and Lyft don't require either. But when we asked about the no-partition option, a TLC spokesperson said that the rule-change was not intended to help its drivers compete with ride-share services like Uber and Lyft. "Passengers and drivers like each option for different reasons, and so we want to make both available," the TLC said in a statement.
The TLC made plastic safety partitions mandatory for yellow cabs in January 1994, as a bad-old-days safety precaution for drivers. According to the TLC, there are currently 318 yellow cabs on the road without partitions, out of a total 13,587 (exceptions have been made for some drivers on a case-by-case basis over the years). Out of 6,249 green boro taxis, only 2,598 currently have partitions.
Although drivers will still have the option of installing partitions, TLC Commissioner Mira Joshi said she thinks they'll become increasingly rare. "In response to feedback from the industry that advocates for something other than a partition, I don't think people will be in droves hacking up with [them]," she said.
Michael O'Loughlin of the cab riders advocacy group Cab Riders United said on Thursday that the partitions that date back to the '90s should be eliminated, rather than phased out. His group has argued that they can get in the way of passenger airbags. "They're a crash hazard for passengers' faces," he said. "They've been called a gift to New York's plastic surgeons."
Legislation introduced last year would install a panic button in all taxis, Ubers, and for-hire vehicles, that would connect directly to the NYPD.