Cabbies protest outside of Schumer’s home for improved financial relief plan

Taxi workers protested outside of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer’s Brooklyn home on March 21 calling for a better relief plan than what the city is offering.
Photo by Mark Hallum

Cab drivers continue calling on the city to rescind its plan for providing driver relief, this time, instead of Gracie Mansion, they brought the horns and signs to Senator Charles Schumer’s home on Prospect Park West on Sunday.

The New York City Taxi Workers Alliance wants little to do with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $65 million plan for a financial relief fund for beleaguered cabbies, stating the loan amount is not the same for every driver and that there is no foreclosure protection for drivers nor does it give lenders an incentive to drop the amount owed by many to$125,000 as the organization has been asking for.

“We want the Senator to know that the mayor is doing this through the people’s stimulus money… The way they’re doing it is to give the lenders cash upfront with no guarantee of the concessions in return,” TWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said. “Right now we’ve been left out of the room and the entire table has been set to advantage the lenders over the drivers.”

An infusion of $65 million from the American Rescue Plan put the deal on the table for Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier in March when he said they now have the ability to offer cab drivers some form of aid. Desai, however, believes that since her organization’s fight goes farther back than the pandemic to an onslaught of cabbie suicides throughout 2018 due to crushing debt, what is truly lacking is the political will to bring meaningful relief.

According to Desai, the TWA’s own proposal at the state level would have cost the government $75 million and would have provided medallion holders refinancing at $125,000 with restructured financing over 20 years and 4% interest meaning a monthly mortgage of about $157.

But with Senate Majority Leader Schumer delivering New York City’s share of the stimulus funding, the TWA’s plan with the state was undermined by the detour around Albany legislators.

“It’s both about the amount of money but also how the money is being spent. In our plan, the money would have been spent to set up a guarantee program so the lenders would have had the security with the amount guaranteed,” Desai said. “Drivers would have the protection through that guarantee to not lose their homes. So it’s a better way to spend that money.”

The crushing debt that many medallion holders find themselves living with has pushed up to nine cabbies to commit suicide in the last few years after investing in TLC licenses which were sold as a solid, long-term investment. The emergence rideshare programs, unregulated at first, would make taking out a loan for a medallion a momentous burden.

Some reforms for the Taxi and Limousine Commission seem to be coming into play, however. In October, the City Council approved a bill that would create an Office of Financial Stability within the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) which will evaluate the industry and provide oversight of income and expenses for medallion owners, medallion loan terms and market manipulation.

A City Hall spokesman declined to provide further comment apart from what has already been issued by the Mayor de Blasio and TLC Chair Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk. Schumer’s office did not respond to a request for comment before press time.