NEW YORK — A handful of New York cabbies are to wear bullet-proof vests as part of a pilot program in response to assaults on drivers, their representative said Monday.
Initially, a dozen police-issue flak jackets, which fit under a shirt or jacket, will be given to drivers of livery cabs in tough areas of the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, NY1 television reported.
The plan responds to the June shooting murder of a livery driver in the Bronx neighborhood. A livery driver in the Queens neighborhood was shot and severely wounded during a robbery in December.
Fernando Mateo, head of the New York Federation of Taxi Drivers, says that some 300 robberies and assaults against livery cab drivers take place monthly.
"One shooting is a lot and whatever we can do to help improve the safety of our drivers is something that we will do," he told news site Examiner.com.
Livery cabs, often painted black, respond to telephone requests, while the city's more famous yellow cabs pick up passengers from the streets.
Mateo, said in a television interview "we're going to reach out to NYPD, to individual police officers," with a request for more of the dark vests.
However, city officials said the idea was overkill.
"I do not think they need to do that," Mayor Michael Bloomberg was quoted by Examiner.com as saying.
Mateo responded that drivers knew best: "Neither the mayor nor the commissioner drive a cab."
Reflecting tensions over driver safety in New York, Mateo caused a stir in December when he urged drivers to think twice before picking up African American or Hispanic passengers.
"You know sometimes it's good that we are racially profiled because the God's-honest truth is that 99 percent of the people that are robbing, stealing, killing these drivers are blacks and Hispanics," he said.
Mateo was accused by some commentators of racism, but others in the city supported him, while he claimed he could not be racist since he was part Hispanic and part African American himself.