Few answers from City Hall over plight of taxi drivers mired in economic hardship

Photo by Mark Hallum

The mayor’s office as well as the Taxi and Limousine Commission remain evasive on dealing with the growing distress of taxi drivers who are not only fighting for loan forgiveness but also paid sick leave as the coronavirus takes hold in New York City.

The Taxi Workers Alliance (TWA) again appealed to Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday for a bail out as drivers who say they already work up 20 hours to pay living expenses face deserted streets due to quarantine.

The union is asking for the city and state to provide paid sick leave and unemployment benefits to drivers struggling to make ends meet.

“Today, our members are again on a frontline to keep our city moving and our public safe. Unlike other frontline workers, however, independent contractor and misclassified drivers have few labor protections and are facing the pandemic during the worst years of an ongoing crisis of poverty and despair,” the TWA said in a statement.

amNewYork Metro made multiple requests for comment to the TLC and mayor’s office. The TLC didn’t respond, and the Mayor’s office was evasive on a clear answer.

In an email to the paper, city spokeswoman Olivia Lapeyrolerie failed to address any points made, stating: “Our comment is: we are reviewing the letter. Let me know if you need anything else.”

The city was similarly silent when taxi drivers gathered in front of City Hall in early March asking for financial relief after state Attorney General Letitia James claimed that many drivers were the victims of fraud, paying inflated prices for medallions.

The TWA also included Uber and Lyft drivers in their request for expanded unemployment benefits.

According to the union, the city’s paid sick leave law does not include taxi or ride-share drivers.

Overall, the drivers are calling on lenders to cancel all debt above $150,000 and refinancing at $900 per month, TLC suspension of the improvement surcharge collected from each toll, and for livery drivers to qualify for the for the city’s zero-percent-interest emergency loan program.

In May 2018, a Flushing man was found floating in the East River, his car left near the waterfront by Carl Schurz Park near 86th Street.

The family of Yu Mein Chow, 56, were convinced he took his life after hardship tied to how much he owed on the medallion and an inability to make the payments because of the like of Uber and Lyft.

Chow owed $700,000 on a loan he took out in 2011 before they plummeted to $200,000 at the time of his death.

At the height of their value in 2014, taxi medallions were worth $1.3 million.

The Flushing immigrant was considered to be the fifth cab driver suicide at that point in 2018.

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