Hundreds of beleaguered taxi drivers jammed Broadway in front of City Hall this morning demanding the mayor help them after COVID-19 shut down their business while creditors are still chasing them for repayment of business loans for medallion and vehicle purchases.
The demonstration, organized by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, took their line of vehicles to City Hall and then to the doorsteps of taxi loan creditors in Long Island and New Jersey.
Many of these taxi drivers purchased high priced medallions, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars, before the advent of Uber and Lyft services, which has cut into their business. But most damaging has been COVID-19 that eliminated almost all tourist patrons and sheltering in place by residents has all but dried up their business, leaving them with huge debts they are unable to repay.
Estimates by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance say ridership dropped between 80% and 90% during the pandemic.
Michael Wong, a driver for more than 20 years with two children, said it is impossible to make loan payments and support his family with business being “next to nothing.”
“I’m here for all the taxi drivers because the brokers, the mayor the banks, they all said they would take care of yellow medallion taxis, but instead, the TLC didn’t tell drivers the medallion was going to drop from hundreds of thousands of dollars to only $83,000 – leaving many of us with huge debt and it’s killing us,” Wong said as he honked his horn in front of City Hall. “A lot of drivers also got sick and even died from coronavirus, seven suicides and we really need help.”
Rahad Hassim, a driver of more than 20 years, says he owes thousands in loans and cannot pay based on his current income.
“We are being treated like we are beggars,” Hassim said. “A lot of people are making money and I’m not making anything. This will make most of us go to bankruptcy soon.”
Eigen Bas, a cabbie for more than 15-years, says he is also unable to support his family.
“We can’t survive alone because now there is no business,” he said holding up a sign outside his car while thinking about how to feed his wife and two children. “Companies are not working so there is no business – how we supposed to pay our bills? I have a balance of more than $100,000 right now and the banks are pressuring me to pay – what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to survive?”
Mohamed Hassan, father of three children, said he’s not only worried about paying bills but about catching COVID-19.
“The city is dead, there’s no business,” said Hassan. “We have so much debt, the companies are demanding we pay the money, but we can’t pay the money. I’ve also been worried about COVID-19 – if I die, how will my family survive? We are in real problems now.”
The Taxi Alliance is seeking five points of support. Among them are restructuring of loans up to $125,000 and forgiveness another debt; the city should auction foreclosed taxis at public auction for a minimum bid based on the balance of the loan that was owed; the Congress to set up 0 percent loans and a tax exemption on medallion debt forgiveness as part of the stimulus; return foreclosed medallions to storage to the original owner at the same proposed terms; calling on Attorney General Letitia James in her lawsuit against the city, to demand restitution to drivers up to $150,000 for lost money based on “predatory lending and a failure to regulate App-based companies like Uber and Lyft.
A survey by the group found that 90 percent of drivers have active loans. Among them, 70 percent were making all medallion payments in full before March 1st, while another 20 percent were paying steadily even if not always in full. The drivers leading the protest have been collectively paying almost $700,000 per month to their lenders with a collective debt of $132,804,824.70.