Handcuffed to the wheel: NYC cabbies keep foot on gas pedal in pursuit of debt relief

Yellow Taxi drivers yell to the heavens in front of City Hall.
Photo by Dean Moses

For the 22nd time, yellow cab drivers from across New York City pulled over and went out of public service while they rallied for debt relief.

Cabbies banged drums and chanted into megaphones outside of City Hall on Wednesday afternoon with fingers pointed at the government building, they yelled: “When the mayor lies, people die!”

This protest is one of over 20 that–for months now—have been fighting for debt relief for yellow taxi drivers who owe hundreds of thousands in loans for their medallions.

Demonstrators worry that their voices are being drowned out after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on March 9 the creation of a $65 million relief for cabbies in financial straits. Drivers feel that this plan still leaves them to drown in debt since they will have to choose between paying off their loans and affording rent, while lenders reap the benefits.

The relief plan is said to provide aid for drivers in financial crisis by supplying federal stimulus loans up to $9,000 is debt payment support. In addition, zero interest on up to $20,000 in loans to help restructure the medallion debt. Drivers say this is not enough, since these funds will not offset the debt they are downing in and will merely provide lenders with a cash bailout.  

Drivers call for debt forgiveness. Photo by Dean Moses

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, told amNewYork Metro that she feels like she is back to square one following the March 9 announcement, and hopes the city knows this fight is not over. She is calling for debt relief through an overall bailout for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, cutting medallion costs to $125,000 and not the hundreds of thousands of dollars owed now.

“We are up against a lot, against the mayor saying he has solved this. No one wants to hear something is not solved, people want to believe it has been solved. We now are being forced to get people to open their eyes all over again,” Desai said.

Desai also emphasized the dire state of mental health among drivers. Feeling as though they have no way out, many cabbies have resorted to taking their own lives. As taxi owners, the drivers are unable to leave their job for greener pastures at other companies like Uber or Lyft.

Cabbies call out the Mayor and other electeds outside City Hall. Photo by Dean Moses

“Lease drivers are able to go work for companies that might be doing better. If you are the owner driver, you are handcuffed to that wheel and without a real solution you are literally facing a life sentence to debtors’ prison,” Desai said.

From 1 to 3 p.m. on April 14, taxi drivers marched in circles and cried out at City Hall, hoping their pleas would be heard.