From Annie Karni’s “Gabbing Taxi Drivers Talking on ‘Party Lines’” (The New York Sun: 11 January 2007):
It’s not just wives at home or relatives overseas that keep taxi drivers tied up on their cellular phones during work shifts. Many cabbies say that when they are chatting on duty, it’s often with their cab driver colleagues on group party lines. Taxi drivers say they use conference calls to discuss directions and find out about congested routes to avoid. They come to depend on one another as first responders, reacting faster even than police to calls from drivers in distress. Some drivers say they participate in group prayers on a party line.
It is during this morning routine, waiting for the first shuttle flights to arrive from Washington and Boston, where many friendships between cabbies are forged and cell phone numbers are exchanged, Mr. Sverdlov said. Once drivers have each other’s numbers, they can use push-to-talk technology to call large groups all at once.
Mr. Sverdlov said he conferences with up to 10 cabbies at a time to discuss “traffic, what’s going on, this and that, and where do cops stay.” He estimated that every month, he logs about 20,000 talking minutes on his cell phone.
While civilian drivers are allowed to use hands-free devices to talk on cell phones while behind the wheel, the Taxi & Limousine Commission imposed a total cell phone ban for taxi drivers on duty in 1999. In 2006, the Taxi & Limousine Commission issued 1,049 summonses for phone use while on duty, up by almost 69% from the 621 summonses it issued the previous year. Drivers caught chatting while driving are fined $200 and receive two-point penalties on their licenses.
Drivers originally from countries like Israel, China, and America, who are few and far between, say they rarely chat on the phone with other cab drivers because of the language barrier. For many South Asians and Russian drivers, however, conference calls that are prohibited by the Taxi & Limousine Commission are mainstays of cabby life.