Cabs and Capitalism in New York City

A front seat ride through the yellow cab industry of New York City

“As a New York City yellow taxi driver, I am an independent contractor, not an employee. . . . What that means is everybody—the city, the brokers, the cops—gets a chance to independently rip me off when they please.” —Rizwan Raja, New York City taxi driver

The yellow cab is a striking metaphor for New York City and its exuberant twenty-four-hours-a-day rush. But just as the city has changed in recent years, so too has the industry that keeps it on the move. As Biju Mathew reveals in this fast-paced survey of New York’s taxi business, just about everything has changed dramatically except the yellow paint.

An immigrant working class in an industry that pioneered outsourcing, taxi drivers have a tough job with long hours and low earnings. The recent fare hike represents a major step forward for them. Behind the victory is a long campaign by the Taxi Workers Alliance, of which Mathew is a volunteer organizer, stretching back to the 1998 strike against the harassment of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The scale of this action, with 24,000 drivers participating, was achieved despite the diversity of a workforce that speaks at least eighty different languages. Drawing extensively on Mathew’s interactions with the drivers, Taxi! is as much a critical commentary on globalization, urban renewal, migration, and multiculturalism as it is a captivating account of the struggles and triumphs of life behind the wheel. Buckle up, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

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