Source AP ©

New York City's electrical utility hires cabs to guard electrified manholes

New York City's electrical utility is hiring cabs to guard electrified manholes and grates that can deliver lethal shocks.

Consolidated Edison has found so many hot spots that it has been unable to guard them all with its own vehicles and in the last six months has turned to livery cabs to park next to them instead, spokesman Chris Olert said.

The drivers park near marked-off danger spots, and placards on their cars explain that the area contains "an extremely dangerous electrified object or structure."

"I just watch and make sure no one goes near it," Zafrul Islam, 42, a driver for Brooklyn-based Executive Transportation who has guarded several hot spots around the city, told the Daily News.

Stray current can be a serious and sometimes deadly problem. In recent years, pedestrians and pets have been shocked by short circuits in underground electrical panels in New York City and other places. The problem often happens when frayed underground wires come in direct contact with a metal plate, and is exacerbated by wet weather.

Con Edison agreed in 2005 to spend about $10 million (EUR7.36 million) on stray-voltage detectors and other safety programs. The agreement came after a 30-year-old woman was killed when she stepped on the metal cover of a utility box while walking her dogs in Manhattan's East Village on Jan. 16, 2004.

Con Edison's roaming stray-voltage detector vans have identified about 1,969 hot spots in the last year, Olert said. When the vehicles identify a short-circuit, a work crew is not always available immediately. In those cases, Olert said, the company calls in a car service to stand watch.

About 1,000 livery cab drivers have been involved since the effort began six months ago, according to the News.