By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) – New York City livery cab drivers, often called to crime-ridden neighborhoods that yellow taxis tend to ignore, are being armed with bulletproof vests, an advocacy group said on Tuesday.
Citing some deadly attacks on the drivers the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers distributed the vests on Monday and drivers started using them immediately.
Priority was given to drivers working the night shift in areas where statistics showed high incidence of attacks -- chiefly in outlying parts of boroughs outside Manhattan.
Livery cabs must be hired ahead of time and do not pick up passengers off the street, unlike the more well known yellow taxis that cruise New York City streets looking for fares.
One dozen vests were donated by New York-based security firm Security USA, adding to another 20 or so protective shields that had been previously donated by retired police officers.
The company said it expects to expand the program to meet a clear need.
"It's just been amazing, all the calls we've been getting from livery drivers" since the new vests were distributed, Security USA spokesman Clark Pena said on Tuesday.
"We want to continue this, and will do our best to get as many drivers fitted as we can," Pena said, adding that he was reaching out to other security firms and had gotten a positive, enthusiastic response.
The company donated the $400 vests after being contacted by taxi federation head Fernando Mateo.
A spokesman for the city's Taxi and Limousine Commission, which regulates metered cabs, livery and other for-hire cars, declined to comment on the program.
Driving a taxi or livery car can be one of the city's more dangerous jobs, the group noted, as robberies sometimes turn violent.
Among the livery drivers killed or wounded on the job were Cesar Santos, who was fatally shot in the Bronx last June during a dispute with a fare who refused to pay; Trevor Bell, 53, who died in December when he was shot in the head during a robbery in Queens; and Julio Lora, who was paralyzed after being shot in the Bronx this month.
The vests will not protect drivers from head wounds, but the group said the vast majority of attacks stem from knife attacks or gunshots to the drivers' lower back or side.