WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Cabbies and other for-hire drivers across the state have moved a step closer to receiving increased protections from on-the-job-attacks, officials said.
The “Taxi Driver Protection Act,” which the state Senate passed Thursday, would make any hate crime or assault against a for-hire driver a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in jail, similar to current laws shielding city bus drivers.
“This is very important for this industry,” said state Sen. Marisol Alcantara, who sponsored the legislation. “These are the people that nobody normally cares about, and we have a responsibility as elected officials to protect you and look out for our interests, and that’s what we intend to do.”
Tauqueer Khan, an Uber driver and for-hire taxi driver, said he was relieved to see the bill move forward. The driver said he was verbally and physically attacked shortly before the 2016 presidential election after picking up a customer near the Flatiron District late one night.
“He got in my car and was cursing, saying, ‘I’m going to kill you,’ and then he punched me,” Khan recalled, adding that he drove the man to 22nd Street, where he finally pulled over and told the man to get out.
The passenger got out of the car, but his taunting continued, Khan recounted, adding that the abuse only ended when two passersby saw what was happening and scared the man away.
The driver said he contacted police the following day but was told the incident would not qualify as a hate crime, so he didn’t file a complaint.
Berford Simmons, of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said stories like Khans are all too familiar and that he could tell many more like it.
“For too long, these drivers have been attacked, assaulted and killed in this city, and nothing has been done,” Simmons said, adding the law is “something we’ve been fighting for years.”
“This is a public-servant job that we’re doing,” he added. “Anyone can take us to any corner of this city and attack us while we’re out by ourselves.”
Simmons and advocates said that while an earlier version of the bill was rejected by Gov. David Paterson seven years ago, the need for the legislation remains strong.
"We need this bill now more than ever," said Ali Najmi, a lawyer from Queens.
"The state government has expanded Uber and other for-hire apps upstate, therefore they're putting more drivers on the road and more drivers at risk," Najmi said.
Alcantara said the bill will now go before the state Assembly, which she hopes “can understand how important this is for working-class New Yorkers.”
The final stop for any legislation to be approved is Gov. Andrew Cuomo.