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Livery Cab Drivers Getting Vested

Livery cab driver Julio Lora is now paralyzed from the neck down after he was shot in a robbery on E. 163rd Street in March.

The organizers of a new program that provides drivers bulletproof vests want to make sure that never happens again. Private security company Security USA is teaming with the New York State Federation of Taxi Drivers to distribute bulletproof vests to livery cab drivers in the city.

The federation has identified the Bronx as an especially dangerous place to drive a cab, and intends to concentrate the vest supply in the borough.

“The federation has determined, because of crime stats, the need is in the Bronx and south Brooklyn,” said Clark Pena, spokesman for Security USA. The federation is responsible for the distribution of all the vests it gets from Security USA.

Jose Vilorea of Woodlawn is president of the State Federation of Cab Drivers. He started driving a cab in 1987 when he came to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic. He lasted twelve years behind the wheel and now owns two livery cab bases, one on Randall Avenue and one in Sunset Park in Brooklyn.

He says that, anecdotally, the Bronx is more dangerous for his drivers than Brooklyn, and he expects the vests to be a useful safety precaution.

“It’s a good thing because they shoot drivers in the back, and that means many times drivers die because they don’t have the vests,” he said. “Safety is welcome.”

The vests, donated free of charge, usually cost about $400 each. About 30 have been distributed so far, with more to come.

In the late 1990s the state had a pilot program that equipped certain livery cabs with GPS. Vilorea said that was a significant deterrent because it helped police get to crime scenes quicker.

The funding for that program expired about a decade ago, but Vilorea said his organization is in favor of any and all safety measures.

“Even if they put a cop inside each car,” he said.“Anything would be good.”

Thirty-one-year-old livery cab driver Cesar Santos was fatally shot in the chest on Kingsbridge Terrace after chasing down a pair of fare beaters last June.

Eduardo Ladines of Morris Park has driven a cab out of Vilorea’s Bronx base for the past two years. He said the safest protection is the bulletproof plastic partition that a lot of yellow cabs have, but are not common in livery cabs.

“The vest just covers the chest. Our neck and head are vulnerable,” Ladines said. “The best is the plastic partition, but it’s uncomfortable.”

Ladines, who started driving after being laid off from an office job on Wall Street, has already been held up once at gunpoint. But despite the hazards of the job, he said he had no intentions of going back to his previous line of work.

“I like this business because you’ve got no boss looking over your back,” he said.

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