Will the yellow New York taxis and their drivers survive?


New York taxi drivers have been gathering outside the city hall for several weeks almost every day. They are outraged by the financial plan that Mayor Bill de Blasio is offering them. They call his relief plan “shame and betrayal.”

“I didn’t work for that and sacrificed everything for the sake of my children so that at the end of my life I would be left without a penny,” Basha Osovski, a taxi driver with thirty years of experience and an immigrant from Poland, told Voice of America. – This mess. And it happened because of the predatory loans and corruption of our government. ”

“They demanded that I pay $ 3,800 a month,” echoes his colleague Erhan Tunsel, an immigrant from Turkey. “I absolutely couldn’t afford it, absolutely. Three days later, the bank took the medallion from me. ”

In New York, you can’t just drive a taxi – you need to buy a special license from the City Taxi and Limousine Commission – a medallion. Previously, it was a profitable investment for drivers, most of whom are immigrants: the medallion grew in value all the time and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The owner could resell it, rent it out, inherit it. Taxi drivers bought medallions on credit, and banks lured them in, offered them to refinance – take more and more loans at low interest rates. Said Nuruzaman took it to pay for his daughters’ education. The daughters became a doctor and a lawyer. And Said is in debt like silk.

“I had to pay more and more, $ 5,000 every month,” Said Nurruzaman, a Pakistani immigrant taxi driver, told Voice of America. “And then my daughter told me:” Stop paying. Don’t pay any more. How much you can! You are over 70 years old. ”

The real problems for taxi drivers began when the cost of the medallion began to fall about 8 years ago. Yellow taxis on the streets of the city began to crowd out “Uber”, which passengers can call using a special application. Then the pandemic struck. Now every taxi driver owes banks an average of half a million dollars. Their life is quite complicated. To pay off debt, they work 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, sometimes without health insurance. Competition with Uber is becoming increasingly fierce. The daily revenue of taxi drivers is decreasing.

Sometimes this leads to tragedy. At least eight taxi drivers have committed suicide due to stress and the burden of debt. One of them, Kenny Chao, a 56-year-old immigrant from Myanmar, threw himself into the river. His brother, Richard Chao, also a taxi driver, lives with a terrible sense of guilt.

“My brother bought the medallion ten years ago, for seven hundred thousand dollars,” Richard Chao told Voice of America. “He owed the bank five hundred and eighty thousand. But he started to have financial problems, because the city authorities, without any control, let our competitors – the Uber and Lift companies – onto the streets. We have lost everything – our investments, our income. We didn’t earn anything, we couldn’t pay the banks. My brother Kenny could not stand it – he committed suicide. ”

City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to provide taxi drivers with sixty-five million dollars from a federal assistance package to combat the consequences of the pandemic. Each driver will receive about twenty thousand. However, these funds are not for drivers. They are for banks to offer new, less predatory loans.

“Taxi owners will be able to pay this money without interest, if possible. This will help them negotiate with banks and achieve better payout conditions, ”Aloise Heredia Jamrozhuk, head of the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, told a news conference.

However, taxi drivers say it is less than a drop in the bucket.

“This will not lead to real debt forgiveness,” Bhairavi Desai, head of the New York taxi drivers’ union, told Voice of America. – They will continue to face bankruptcy, they will still not be able to pay for their houses. They will not have income because they will not be able to repay debts to banks anyway. ”

“How does this help me? – Basha Osovski is indignant. “I owe the bank hundreds of thousands of dollars. I’ve worked all my life. And I won’t even be able to pay myself a decent nursing home. ”

The City Council, in which legislators and the city mayor sit, are still silent. The yellow taxi is as much a symbol of New York as skyscrapers or the Statue of Liberty. Without them, New York will probably be some other New York.

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