Count the ways it’s tough to be a taxi driver: Competition from ride-sharing services. Inflated medallion prices or expensive fees to drive the cars. More traffic.
For Mohammed Hasan, there’s also a simple one.
“We cannot go to the bathroom!” says Hasan, 50.
Manhattan is covered in no-standing zones in one way or another. Good luck finding a parking spot. Gas stations are disappearing in many parts of Manhattan. And Hasan, who lives in Sheepshead Bay, says he works around 10 hours a day, six days a week.
Hence the importance of taxi relief stands, the easy-to-miss set-aside parking spots where cabbies can leave their vehicles for a short time to eat, stretch, or visit the restroom.
He’d had his share of $100-plus tickets because he parked in a no-standing spot and tried unsuccessfully to dash into a restaurant. That can eat into a living, nearly wiping out a day’s work.
But Hasan was happy on Tuesday because he’d just noticed the new taxi stand that had opened outside of one of his favorite haunts, Punjabi Grocery & Deli just off Houston Street.
The cash-only, 24-hour joint has been open since the mid-1990s, owned by Kulwinder Singh who had worked as a cabbie.
“It’s like a cabbie landmark,” says Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Desai said she used to visit the spot when she first started organizing drivers. It was a nucleus from which they might drive her to their garages, or the airport, to talk to others.
It has reasonably priced Indian vegetarian food and favorites like a Tuesday and Friday yogurt curry special. It has coffee and tea and two bathrooms, and just a few seats along the narrow interior. But that’s ok, even ideal, because the drivers like to stand for a bit.
“It’s a sitting job,” says Hasan.
As a Bengladeshi immigrant, he always enjoys the homestyle food, but on this visit he also was savoring the opportunity to stand and keep an eye on his cab legally parked right outside the deli, while he munched on Oreo-style Milcolu cookies he’d bought inside.
There had been some reserved spots for cabbies near Punjabi, but rarely enough, drivers say. A small temporary stand around the block on Avenue A wasn’t sufficient, and Punjabi’s owner and community leaders pushed for something permanent for years.
City construction nearby “kind of stalled” the process, said Carlina Rivera, who represents the area in the City Council.
The relief spots are one way the city is looking to help cabbies. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced another one on Tuesday, with the arrest of a man threatening cabbies with false car and medallion repossession.
It’s a more urgent cause lately after a string of driver suicides last year, and journalistic investigations into medallion cons perpetrated on drivers.
The spots set aside for drivers on the north side of Houston Street and over on East First Street opened in May and late June respectively, according to the city Department of Transportation. Cabbies pulled in and out during a Tuesday visit. Universally they appreciated the new spots, marked by an easy to miss street sign, even if they didn’t get out of the car for food. Forty-four-year-old driver Juan Carlos Delacruz said he’d even gotten tickets in the past for sitting in the car where he wasn’t supposed to. Here, at least you were legal. You had a bathroom and a spice-scented meeting space for food and fellow workers. You could chat or just look at the bottles of pickles and pictures of patrons along the tiled walls.
The workday might start before sunrise and end not long before the sun went down, but here a momentary relief.
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