A change in taxi parking at Philadelphia International Airport that would have deprived drivers of a mosque they had established — and possibly prompted a strike — has been postponed.
On May 1, the airport had intended to close one of two lots that taxi drivers use to wait for fares. That will not happen, Florence Brown, a spokesperson for the facility, said Wednesday. Instead, the airport will evaluate how to accommodate the taxis, as well as ride-share vehicles that pick up passengers, she said. What will happen to the lot in question, which accommodates about 160 vehicles, will be part of the discussion.
“We’re hoping that becomes a collaborative decision between airport and drivers,” Brown said.
That news, said Ron Blount, president of the Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, means drivers would likely continue serving the airport. A work stoppage had been scheduled for Tuesday.
“I think we’re going to talk on Monday,” he said. “As long as those talks go well, yeah, we’re not going to take any action."
The airport also is exploring how it can accommodate the trailer that drivers have converted into a mosque. More than half of Philadelphia’s 1,500 cabdrivers are Muslim, Blount has said, and the trailer, purchased through driver donations for $10,000, is a valued space where they can practice Islam’s tradition of prayer five times daily.
“There’s just a clear understanding that there’s a lot on the table that needs to be worked out,” Brown said.
The drivers’ anger over the lot changes drew the attention of the mayor’s office, city officials said. Rich Lazer, deputy mayor for labor, on Wednesday discussed with airport executives why there was a rush to move taxis out of the parking lot.
“Rich and his team want to ensure that they are doing all they can to support both the airport and the [taxi driver] alliance during their negotiations,” said Lauren Cox, a city spokesperson.
The lot in question is used as a long-term waiting space for taxis anticipating the arrival of passengers. Drivers can linger there for up to three hours before they are called to pick up a fare.
The space was going to be reallocated for airport vehicles, and taxis would have been assigned to wait at another lot near the airport’s Terminal A. That would have resulted in a net loss of 50 spots for drivers, which left them concerned that the lack of space would have made it impossible for many of them to rely on the airport for customers.
Cabbies saw the move as a blow that would cripple them and benefit rides-hare companies. Eli Gabay, a lawyer representing the cab union who has represented cab medallion owners in foreclosure hearings, said the arrival of ride-share had destroyed the value of cab medallions, reducing them from $440,000 in 2013 to $20,000 to $30,000 now.
Cabbies need to be in the area to get to the terminals quickly when a glut of passengers arrives; losing the long-term waiting lot would have forced them to circle the terminals, using up gas all the while.
“The last stronghold for the taxi cab industry is, in fact, the airport work, and without it, this industry is definitely going to suffer a final blow from which I doubt they could recover,” Gabay said.
Taxis pick up an average of 1,440 passengers a day at Philadelphia’s aviation hub, officials said. Up to 900 of the city’s 1,500 cabs are registered to provide service at the airport, but Blount said that typically only 300 drivers consistently offer pickups there.
The airport is going to introduce an app called Gatekeeper for drivers that would give them a half-hour notification when there was going to be a surge of passengers at arrival terminals. That likely won’t be available until the end of the year, though. How the app will work also will be part of the discussions between drivers and the airport, Brown said.