City Council Considering Legislation To Protect All Involved, Though Some Say App-Based Technology Already Does


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A New York City Council committee is considering “panic buttons” for drivers of taxis, street hail liveries and for-hire vehicles.

And another button — for passengers.

Everywhere you turn in the city there are people hopping into cabs, livery cars, Ubers and Lyfts.

“All the time, every day,” Nick Larson of lower Manhattan told CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis.

Larson said he has never had a problem when it comes to safety.

“Fortunately, but I have heard stories of other people. You never know what’s gonna happen out there,” Larson said.

(Photo: CBS2)

So he’s on board with a proposal to put panic buttons in the back of cabs, livery cars and for-hire vehicles. A second piece of legislation being considered by the council is installing a button in the front of these cars — to help the driver.

“I think it’s a great idea to have that because you never know, people are crazy,” said Debbie Dowers of Astoria.

City Council member Andy King first introduced the bill to add panic buttons to cabs last legislative session.

“When we met, over 150 drivers showed up to tell their horror stories of how they got ripped off — not to mention Camacho, who got shot eight times,” King said.

The livery driver King mentioned survived being shot and robbed in the Bronx last March by his passenger, according to police.

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It’s no secret a lot drivers are suffering financially. Would the panic button be something they would have to pay for or would the city foot the bill? A Lyft spokesperson echoed that concern.

“Safety is Lyft’s top priority. Since day one, we have worked hard to design policies and features that protect both drivers and riders. The majority of drivers in New York drive their own car, so this proposal would place significant financial burden on them,” the spokesperson said. “We urge the City Council to hear the many voices across the industry opposing these proposals.”

King said the city has a plan to address the financial aspect of the proposal.

“Well, we have a sponsor who’s looking to help pilot this project,” King said. “As a council member, I would urge and look for the city to recognize the fiscal impact to help the drivers. It’s not about trying to make a dollar. It’s about saving their lives.”

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At a hearing Monday, the NYPD said it is on board with tools to get victims of crimes to police quicker, but there are a lot of details that still need to be ironed out.

“To find the right technology to accurately respond to the location,” said Oleg Chernyavsky of the NYPD’s Legislative Affairs Unit. “If we show up to a corner and there are five cars that look identical in the case of yellow cabs, we need to know which car is in distress.”

The result of Monday’s hearing is expected to really rev up conversations about implementing some sort of safety feature inside cabs, which Council member King wants to see happen by the end of the year.

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CBS2 reached out to app-based companies like Uber, which said it has its own safety feature inside apps users can use.

“We support the City Council’s commitment to the safety of riders and drivers, and we look forward to working with them to make sure that any solution allows riders, drivers and emergency services to utilize the most up-to-date technology in an emergency,” Uber said in a statement.

The Independent Drivers Guild, a machinists union affiliate which represents and advocates for more than 70,000 app-based drivers in New York City, said it is not sure panic buttons are necessary.

“App-based emergency buttons already exist in the largest apps and we believe they offer the best solution for the safety of riders and drivers alike,” the guild said in a statement. “Using the technology already built into the app, app-based buttons give users their exact location to provide to 911 dispatchers and apps are already piloting technology to allow users to automatically transmit that location to 911 dispatchers with the press of the button.”