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Water Rates Increase has Bronxites Irate

The panel sat facing the angry Bronx crowd gathered in the hall of P.S. 14 on Thursday night. After the commissioner of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection used bar graphs and pie charts to explain why residents would have to pay 12.9 percent more for their daily water usage, resident after resident stepped up to vent.

“You have put our backs to the wall,” said Ethel Walsh. “We are living on fixed incomes that don’t go up.” Walsh has been retired for nearly 12 years. Reliant on Social Security benefits, she says the increase will take even more money out of her purse. Housing expenses increase by an average of 3 percent every year. The proposed increase in water rates would add much more to that rate.

With nothing but glasses of cool clear New York City drinking water as a distraction, Mehul Patel and Alan Moss listened intently and took notes. Both were appointed as voting members of the Water Board, and along with four other members, they will decide whether the increase will be implemented by the Department of Environmental Protection. The Water Board sets the water and sewer rates for the city.

Walsh says her bill has gone up every year, so much so that she doesn’t even look at it anymore. Her husband, James, refused to attend Thursday night. “He says this is a done deal,” Walsh said. Walsh thinks her testimony won’t really change the panelists minds, still she wanted to make sure the Water Board understood her anger. “Shame on you, shame on, shame on you,” Walsh shouted, jabbing her pointed finger at the panel.

Voting members of the water board, Mehul Patel and Alan Moss listen to residents complaints against the proposed water rate increase(Lynsey Chutel/The Bronx Ink)

Voting members of the water board, Mehul Patel and Alan Moss listen to residents complaints against the proposed water rate increase(Lynsey Chutel/The Bronx Ink)

“You are the group of guys who do the voting,” Tony Cannata said. “I’m asking you to really listen, to consider what people said.” As president of the Waterbury-La Sale Community Association, Cannata attended an earlier hearing in April and was skeptical that the voting members would pay attention to community needs.

Michael Vivian waved his bill at the panel. He received it on the same day he received the notice of the public hearing. With a water bill of $80.86 for his 47.32 cubic-foot water consumption, the increase will make his bill just under $90 a month in 2011.

Water rates are already high in the Bronx because homes are larger in the borough, according to the University Neighborhood Housing Program, a non-profit affiliated with Fordham University. The group surveyed 919 housing units in the mainland borough and found that the average water bill was $934.20 per unit per year. The average water bill in the city was just over $700 annually.

Johanna Kletter, financial director of the housing program, reminded the panelists that she had submitted alternative strategies to the DEP, with little feedback. “Two years ago we released a study calling for reform and asking the important question: Can NYC achieve affordable water rates, promote conservation and control capital costs” Kletter said at the hearing. “No, no, no has been the answer to this question for far too long.”

In a press release the Department of Environmental Protection said that the 12.9 percent increase was an improvement on the 14.3 percent increase that was projected in 2009. “Clearly it is hard on customers to pay more, especially during tough economic times,”  Cas Holloway, commissioner of environmental protection, said in the press release that first announced the proposed increase. “Still, we must continue to fund critical projects that protect our drinking water and effectively treat the 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater that New Yorkers produce every day. New York City’s water is safe, healthy and high in quality. Keeping it that way requires substantial investments.”

The DEP intends to complete three plants by 2011. The Croton Filtration Plant will cost households $33 a year, the Ultraviolet Disinfection Plant $18 a year and the Newtown Creek Treatment Plant $48 a year. As of 2011, these plants and other federally mandated investments, will account for $177 of the household water bill every year.

But many in the audience felt that the DEP was using the rate increases to raise its revenue. “Bluntly, water rates are now just one more revenue stream for the city’s general budget,” Frank Vernuccio Jr. said. “The board itself admits to a $194 million straight transfer of funds to the general city budget.”

Vernuccio argued that New York City had seen harsher economic climates and that a water rate increase was unnecessary because residents had already tightened their belts to save money. New Yorkers had decreased their daily water consumption from 200 gallons per capita in the 1990s to 155 gallons in 2001, Vernuccio said. Currently, he said, New Yorkers consume four gallons less than the national average. “New Yorkers have done all that was asked of them,” Vernuccio said amid applause from the audience.

This story was corrected to address the following errors and clarifications:
Cas Calloway is the commissioner of environmental protection, not the executive director. A water bill of  $80.86 would be about $90 with a 12.9 percent increase;  and the Water Board sets the water and sewer rates for the city.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Housing, Money0 Comments

Bill Aims to Help Small Businesses Survive

At 3:30 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, G&G Variety store has made less than $70 profit. The day before, Adikie Addy, the store’s owner and cashier, counted a total of $165 in earnings. At the end of the week she has to pay her landlord $1, 000 in rent and arrears payments.

“I cry, I pray, but it’s tough,” Addy said. Along with her business partner, Addy opened the store, less than a block away from the intersection of White Plains Avenue and 233rd Street, almost three years ago. She said her rent began at $2,080 and has increased to $2, 165. Hit hard by the economic recession, her business has suffered, and she has yet to record any gains from the store. In the last few weeks she said she has tried to negotiate, but  her landlord, has taken her to court instead.

“I called him, I pleaded with him to come down a little bit,” Addy said. “I said to him, ‘It’s not your fault nobody knew the economy would be like this.’ ” She said her debt to her landlord has climbed to more than $8,000, including costs of maintenance and taxes, which are divided among the five other store owners in this commercial building.

The landlord, Jeffrey Cohen, declined to comment. “That’s between myself and my tenant,” he said when asked about rent disputes with Addy.

Last week, City Councilman Robert Jackson introduced the Small Business Survival Bill, which if passed, would  give business owners like Addy the right of arbitration to more effectively negotiate their leases.

“Small businesses right now have no say whatsoever in the terms of their lease, so when the lease term comes up, the landlord has total say,” said Robert Bieder, chairperson of the Bronx Merchants Coalition and a member of the Coalition of Small Businesses. “Simply put:  It is the right to arbitration in the commercial lease renewal process,” Bieder said of the bill’s potential power.

Addy said she wished there had been such a program in place when she signed her five-year lease. Instead, she said, she took the word of her landlord, who ran the shop before her, and convinced her that she would be making a profit that would cover her expenses. With four rows of shelves cramped into just about 120 square feet, the narrow store stocks everything  from underwear to detergent and even traditional clothes from Addy’s native Ghana.

Addy said she had taken out more than $50,000 in loans to keep her business afloat. She works night shifts as a hospital nurse technician so that she can pay her debts.  “My pay was five hundred and forty-something dollars, ” she said of her most recent paycheck. “I took $500 to pay for the merchandise. I don’t have money in the bank. It’s about time we were helped, we put money into this economy.”

Cohen also declined to give his opinion on the new bill or what it might mean for his commercial properties.

Local activists are  already trying to mobilize small businesses to gather enough support for the bill. But this is not the first time the bill has been up for debate.  Last year, District 7 Councilman Robert Jackson brought it to the floor. By the end of  the City Council cycle in December, however, the bill had not been voted on and withered away in the political process.

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn argued that she could not support a bill that she felt was fundamentally illegal. Last year, Quinn said that forcing landlords to binding arbitration would encroach on their property rights, according to the Downtown Express. At the Bronx Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon in early April, Quinn’s position had not changed. “I can’t say I’ll pass a bill that so many of our staff and our highest lawyers say cannot be legal,” Quinn said. Instead, Quinn said that the council was looking into alternative legislation to protect small businesses in the city.

Jackson said he believed that opposition from the mayor’s office and pressure from the real estate lobby prevented the bill from being passed last year, even though 34 out of 51 council members  supported the bill. “In the last cycle, when push came to shove, there were not enough votes to move it,” said Jackson. “There [was] a lot of pressures put on a lot of people.” This time Jackson intends to build support “from the ground up.”

Steve Null, a former business owner and activist for the Small Business Survival Bill, said the stalling was political. “Our attorney thinks it’s a red herring,” Null said. “It was a last-second move to stop the bill.”

Null said his attorneys had provided Speaker Quinn’s office with the necessary documentation to prove the legality of the bill. He said his calls for a forum to assess legal issues surrounding the measure were ignored.  “They stopped the bill because she does not want to regulate the landlords,” he said.

Some sources alleged that Speaker Quinn may have rejected the bill because it is in her own political benefit to maintain the real estate lobby of landlords. Speaker Quinn’s office responded to this  by reiterating her December 2009 position. “Council Member Jackson’s legislation before the council, while well intentioned, is not within the council’s power,”  Quinn’s office said in a written statement. The statement suggested alternative legislation that would create a unit within the City’s Small Business Services that would assist in lease negotiation.

In an effort to bring attention to the need for such a bill, the U.S.A Latin Chamber of Commerce surveyed 937 Latino-owned businesses in New York City from November 2008 to January 2009. More than half of all businesses surveyed, both professional services, such as attorney and accounting offices, and smaller “mom and pop stores,”  like corner bodegas and hardware stores, complained that their businesses ran the risk of closing because of high rents and operating costs.

Almost three quarters of the small business owners in the survey said they would have to cut back their workers’ hours because renting their storefronts was too expensive.

“The mom and pop stores are at the heart of those communities; they support your Little Leagues, they support your church groups,” said Bieder, who owns Westchester Plumbing Supply with his two younger brothers. “We need to help them stay in business. There are tenants that have been here for 40 or 50 years,” Bieder said. “Now there is a vacancy problem due to lease negotiations. We’re losing about 8,000 a year.”

For now Addy is determined to keep her store open. “It has become a burden on us, but we are going to pay him for five years,” she said.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Money, Politics0 Comments

Gains in National Job Figures Don’t Mean Bronx Resurgence

Gains in National Job Figures Don’t Mean Bronx Resurgence

Bronx residents line up outside a Workforce 1 job center in February. (Zabaneh/Bronx Ink)
Bronx residents lined up outside a Workforce 1 job center in February. (Zabaneh/Bronx Ink)

Story by Shreeya Sinha, Lynsey Chutel and Sunil Joshi

While the national jobs figure for March indicated that the country is on the path to economic recovery, the employment picture in the Bronx was not so sanguine. Unemployment in the borough remains several points above the national average, and thousands of residents are still unable to find work.

For more coverage of Bronx job hunters, click here.

Above the bustling business hub of 149th Street and Third Avenue, rows of almost 50 people sat on Thursday in a cordoned-off waiting room in the Workforce 1 office, looking for help from the Bronx branch of the citywide employment agency.

This was Veronica Eaddy’s second time at the “one-stop employment center.” With a soft round face under thick waves, in a casual jeans and T-shirt, Eaddy, who asked that her full name not be used, doesn’t look her age at 42. But the string of jobs she has tried her hand at reveal a long struggle with unemployment. “I’ve been through many systems where a job has been promised and nothing happened,” Eaddy said.

Nationwide, there may be reason for optimism after the jobs report revealed that the depressed economy may be turning around. The U.S. Department of Labor announced on Friday that 162,000 jobs were added to the national economy, though the nationwide unemployment rate remained steady at 9.7 percent. But an increase in the national jobs number does not necessarily correlate to an increase in the number of jobs in the Bronx, said James Brown, an analyst with the New York Department of Labor. “There’s not a one-for-one increase,” he said. For Bronx job-seekers like Eaddy, economic struggles are still festering.

“You pretty much need a master’s degree to pick up the garbage,” said Eaddy, who feels that living in the Bronx has been a disadvantage for her. She’s spent the last seven years looking for a full-time job. Unemployment in the borough soared to 14 percent in January, well above the national average. Hunger and poverty are stark realities in the borough that is already struggling to compete with a higher-skilled workforce.

“That doesn’t bode well for the Bronx, which has a pretty high percentage of the local workforce that doesn’t have high levels of educational attainment,” said Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a research firm.

About half of Bronxites work outside the borough, Brown said. Many of these jobs in the hospitality and retail sectors are not only low-paying but largely dependent on consumer spending, which has sunk deeply in the recession. Analysts are hopeful that consumers will grudgingly start spending. Consumer spending picked up for the sixth month running in March.

“A lot of establishments are closing,’’ Eaddy said. “There aren’t many jobs that you could get if you come straight off school, like low-skilled jobs. And most of them can be pretty crap.”

Arthur Merlino, manager of Workforce 1, has worked in the labor market for 48 years, crisscrossing labor offices across the city’s five boroughs. After two years managing the Bronx branch, he admits that the borough poses a specific challenge. “This is a real serious time,” said Merlino, his eyes closing as he spoke. “I’d say, experientially it’s been a very difficult couple of years.”

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has made economic development and job creation a priority but critics have accused him of costing the Bronx thousands of jobs at a mall he opposed at the Kingsbridge Armory. Diaz opposed the project on the grounds that it would not provide Bronxites living wages. The City Council voted against the mall.

Franck Strongbow, associate director of the James Monroe Senior Center agreed with Diaz. After he spent eight months living “between a rock and a hard place,” Strongbow lived paycheck to paycheck when he was 25 years old trying to make ends meet. For him, a job is all about dignity. “What the borough president was saying was, “Let’s start with affordable living range because people should be paying an honest day’s labor.” According to the Center for Urban Future, 42 percent of the Bronx workforce is making less than $10 an hour.

The payroll company Automatic Data Processing said this week that U.S. employers cut 23,000 jobs in March, dampening expected forecasts ahead of Friday’s job report. Much of the nationwide growth in March was in temporary government jobs, particularly by the Census Bureau, which hired 48,000 temporary employees, according to the Department of Labor, including enough staff for four Census offices in the Bronx.

Elsewhere, there are signs of life in the borough’s jobs market. A coalition of construction workers in the Bronx said it has seen employment opportunities tick upward in March, with more activity on job sites. While the overall number of new building permits issued in the Bronx during the first three months of the year is down from 2009 — 44 to 18 — there were eight new building permits issued in the Bronx in March (up from four last year), according to the Department of Buildings. Richard Rodriguez, an administrator for United Hispanic Construction, said that his labor coalition was able to connect more workers with jobs in March, particularly with a new development on 163rd Street in Morrisania.

Despite the real-estate market’s more than two-year struggle, prices in Manhattan remain high, fueling new development in the outer boroughs, said Ken Margolies, director of organizing programs at the Cornell School of Industrial Labor Relations. But while Margolies noted the signs of improvement, he cautioned against unbridled optimism. “The key thing about the news,” he said, “is that, by and large, the new jobs that are being created pay less than the ones that are being lost.”

The manufacturing sector is another industry that saw accelerated growth in March, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a private trade group. In February about 11,000 jobs were created, the largest increase in almost four years. Other sectors like health care have also done well, especially after President Obama’s health care plan passed. In March, 27,000 new health care jobs were added to the national economy, according to the Department of Labor.

That’s where Eaddy hopes to try her luck. She’s optimistic that the health care reform will revitalize jobs in this sector. “Since there was such a push going on in public health, I think that a lot of jobs are going to start that I want to get into while the getting in is good,” she said. Eaddy is trying to secure a voucher from the New York State Department of Labor that will cover a six-month-long Medical Billing and Coding course at Hostos Community College. Waving a manila folder on Thursday, with the college brochure inside, she checked that she had all her documentation. She had been waiting for move than an hour for her 4 p.m. appointment.

While she waits for a steady job, Eaddy decided to start her own business. “Splendidly Me,” a cosmetic business that she runs out of her East 180th Street apartment, supplements her income. When she is not teaching customers how to make coconut oil or twist their hair, Eaddy is pinning her long-term hopes on the health care industry.

“Now I have to come back,” she said, “but this time I’m doing something smart with a marketable skill so that I can have some leverage.”

Posted in Money0 Comments

On Day of Census Snapshot, 37 Percent of Bronx Has Responded

What does the Bronx look like today? The answer could resonate for the next decade after the 2010 Census is complete.

If the Census is a decennial snapshot of the American populace, today would be the day the photo is taken. That’s because the Census forms ask respondents to answer questions about their household as of April 1. The information gleaned from the national headcount will be used to divvy up more than $400 billion in federal money for hospitals, schools, emergency services and roads, among other things. When money is allocated, it is based on the number of responses in a given area. People who are not counted can cause services to become overextended.

“The accuracy of the Census is crucial,” said Rafaela Santos, a specialist with the Census Bureau.

Watch a video on one group’s efforts to get the word out about the Census.

With two weeks remaining before the April 15 deadline, however, the Bronx has only 37 percent participation, according to figures published on the Census Bureau’s Web site. The borough lags behind the state total, 46 percent, and the national total, 52 percent. Currently, the Bronx ranks in the middle of the five boroughs in response rate, ahead of both Brooklyn and Queens.Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. challenged his constituents on Wednesday to finish first among the five boroughs, telling the New York Daily News, “We are going to be the first borough this year.”

Language was a key barrier to participation for many Bronx residents in the past, but the Census Bureau is working to bridge the gap this year, offering surveys in several different languages, including Spanish, Urdu and Mandarin. Santos said that participation has increased as non-English speakers have learned more about the process.

“People are much more receptive,” she said. “They are understanding. They are getting factual information about what the Census is all about and how it affects them.”

One measure of public opinion suggests that the Census Bureau’s efforts to sell the national count to non-native English speakers in the Hispanic community may be paying off. Roughly 80 percent of foreign-born Hispanics said that the Census is good for their community, as opposed to 57 percent of native-born Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. Overall, 70 percent of Hispanics said that the Census was good for their community.

The Bronx is 51 percent Hispanic according to 2008 data published by the Census Bureau. Santos said that roughly 56 percent of Bronx residents participated in the 2000 Census, a figure that officials hope to top this year. “A good number is anything beyond 2000,” she added.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Blog, Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia0 Comments

Man Who Killed Mother and Brother Gets 40 Years

Lamar Platt will spend the next 40 years of his life in a state prison – 20 years for killing his mother and 20 more for killing his younger brother.

“The defendant has brutally murdered his own mother, Marlene, and his own brother Nashan,”  Assistant District Attorney David Birnbaum said at today’s sentencing. “And chopped up their bodies, and unceremoniously threw them into the Harlem River.”

East River Plaza

The Harlem River, where Lamar Platt threw his mother's and brother's bodies (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Platt’s lanky 6-foot-2-inch frame was clad in a bright orange Department of Corrections jumpsuit when he entered the courtroom in Bronx State Supreme Court this afternoon for the sentencing.

The twisted cornrows and neat goatee he sported on his MySpace page at the time of the murder, Nov.  18, 2007, had been replaced by a closely shaven head and thick full beard. During the hearing Platt sat quietly with his shoulders taut as his hands were cuffed in front of him. As the sentence was read, he simply stared at the floor, barely grimacing.

It was Platt’s 65-year-old grandmother Elveda who first made contact with the police.  She grew concerned after she was unable to get in touch with her family over the phone from her home in Washington, D.C. She had not spoken with her 42-year-old daughter, Marlene, and her grandsons, Nashan, 22, and Lamar, 26, for days. Platt  had succumbed to a psychotic episode that led him to shoot his mother and brother and carve up their bodies, according to his lawyer, Amy Galacchio, and his social worker, Mishka Vertin.

He placed the dismembered body parts in luggage and garbage bags and dragged them in a laundry cart to the Roberto Clemente State Park in the South Bronx, prosecutors said. Then he dumped the bags into the Harlem River that flows next to the park.

Within a week, Platt’s grandmother Elveda Wright traveled to New York City, where she met the police at her daughter’s first-floor apartment on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, in the Morris Heights section of the western Bronx. Platt was found near the apartment. He failed to account for his mother and brother, prompting the police to climb through the window into the apartment, where they found a trail of blood.

“He devastated and wiped out an entire family,” Birnbaum said. “Marlene is no more. Nashan is no more, and now Lamar will spend the best part of his life in jail.”

Outside the courtroom, Birnbaum and Gallicchio, along with Vertin, discussed the gruesome details of the case. Using his own body, Birnbaum showed how Platt methodically carved up his brother’s body into parts small enough to fit into a Samsonite suitcase.

The police found only parts of the two bodies. They recovered Nashan’s sawed body, from his waist down to his knees. In another suitcase, the police found Marlene’s foot and head, and some more limbs in garbage bags. Marlene was a nurse’s aide and a single mother who had struggled to make sure both her children would be able to go to college. Nashan was set to graduate from Lehman College the year of his death.

“It was a horrific case,” Birnbaum said. “I think that the end result was satisfactory to society and we accomplished what we needed to.”

Birnbaum recommended the sentence that was handed down in court, and Platt’s lawyer, Amy Gallicchio, said she also considered it a fair punishment. Birnbaum relayed that Platt’s remaining family, especially Wright, agreed the defendant deserved 40 years in prison and five additional years of supervision once he’s released — around 2050. No mention was made of parole.

Before the murders, Platt had worked as a barber and had dropped out of college. Vertin believes it was   the combination of a long undiagnosed psychiatric condition combined with a marijuana habit that induced the violent episode. In 2007, Platt had sought medical help; but his stay in the hospital was short and he never received a full treatment.

“He really got nothing,” Vertin said. “And this just continued and continued until…” she trailed off. It was only after he was arrested that he was given the treatment he needed.

Platt has been lucid since his arrest. Gallicchio said he had been found to be clinically insane, but personally chose a prison sentence over an indefinite stay at a psychiatric facility.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Northwest Bronx0 Comments

Help Police Find Betty Robinson

Betty A. Robinson was last seen on Jan. 26. Photograph courtesy of the New York City Police Department

Betty A. Robinson was last seen on Jan. 26. Photograph courtesy of the New York City Police Department

For nearly a month, the New York Police Department has been trying to find Betty A. Robinson. Robinson, 81, was last seen leaving her home in Concourse Village at 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 26. She is described as an African-American, 5 feet 2 inches tall and approximately 90 pounds.

If you have any information that might help the police find Robinson, please call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477).

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods0 Comments

VIDEO – In Fitness, Keeping the Eye on the Ball

Keeping inner-city kids fit, the Presidents’ Week three-on-three basketball tournament brought over 300 public schools to Castle Hill Middle School in the Bronx on Thursday. New Yorks Knicks star John Starks dropped by to make sure the students kept their eye on the ball.

Video produced by Lynsey Chutel and Tracy Thompson

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Multimedia, Northwest Bronx, Sports0 Comments

Student Says She was Attacked by Cab Driver


Yaxis Capote shows her swollen face. The 24 year-old student says she was assaulted by the driver of an illegal, early on Monday. Photo: Courtesy of Yaxis Capote

A tearful Bronx student recounted the hellish night she said left her traumatized with a bruised face after she was attacked by an illegal livery taxi driver in the early hours of Monday morning.

“I just wanted to get home but it turned into a nightmare where I was never able to get to my house until the next day,” said Yaxis Capote at a Tuesday press conference held by the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers . She spoke on the sidewalk near the Bronx intersection where she said she was first picked up.

Leaving the Sofa nightclub in University Heights on Monday morning at 3 a.m., Capote said she hailed a cab on the corner of West Fordham Road and Cedar Avenue. In her junior year at Baruch College, the petite 24-year-old only wanted a night out. Like she had done many times before, she negotiated a fare with the driver, explaining that she only had $30 to get her home in Astoria, Queens. He agreed, and she directed him as they drove across the city.

“Once we got to the corner of my building, he wouldn’t unlock the door,” said Capote. “He said I owed him more money.”

The driver, identified later by police as Francisco Martinez, locked the windows and divider, Capote said. All he would say was that he was taking Capote back. He was charged with assault and harassment according to a spokesperson at the 114th police precinct, in Astoria.

“I had an extra fifty dollar bill in my pocket that belonged to my friend, Geraldine,” said Capote, her friend Geraldine Torrealba comforting her. “I offered it to him, but he wouldn’t take it.”

Capote said Martinez took a right onto Queens Boulevard, with her captive in the backseat of his black cab.

“That was the most terrifying moment of my life,” said Capote, her voice breaking. “I’ve never been held against my will anywhere.”

Capote said she tried not to panic, calling 911 on her mobile phone. The dispatcher instructed her to find the driver’s identity card that should be pasted up in the back of the cab. It was then that she discovered he was an illegal driver.

“The city is plagued with anywhere between eight and ten thousand illegal cab drivers that roam the streets picking up people,” said Fernando Mateo, spokesperson for the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers. “You don’t know whether these drivers are rapists, kidnappers, murderers or who they are.”

According to Mateo, the drivers union lobbied to have each legal cab fitted with the driver’s identity card and the passengers’ bill of rights. Any cab that does not have these cards visible to the passenger is considered illegal. He urged passengers to check for these two documents before allowing a cab to drive them.

As the 911 dispatcher tried to locate Capote, the driver realized that she was on her mobile phone. He became enraged, she said, abruptly pulling the car over near the 59th Street Bridge. With Capote still locked in the back, he opened the door on the right side, dragging her out by her pants, screaming “I’m going to kill you!”

Capote said she kicked and screamed as she tried to crawl to the left side to escape, but the driver pinned her down on the backseat and began to beat her.

“There was blood all over my face,” says Capote, pointing to her eye, still bloodied, with the flesh around it bruised purple. Her lip was also cut and still swollen.

An unnamed couple spotted the incident, and the man dragged the driver off Capote, pinning him down while the woman helped her escape.

“My grandmother passed away, and I feel it was her that sent them to help me,” said Capote of the couple she never had the chance to thank. Police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and accompanied Capote to Mount Sinai Hospital.

Manuel Nunez, a member of the Federation of Taxi Drivers, urged passengers to call dispatchers of private car services to arrange transport rather than hail a cab. He said that the commission was working to find a way to end illegal taxis, but that it was very difficult.

“There are a lot of drivers that work from 2 to 6 a.m. that are pirate,” said Nunez. “They don’t have licenses, and we don’t know what kind of person they are.”

Capote said she thought she was being responsible by taking a cab. She didn’t want to bother any of her friends for a ride. Now, she said she is too afraid to trust any cab driver or to go anywhere without a friend or family member.

For a safer ride, go to the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission’s Find A Ride directory.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Southern Bronx0 Comments