The city’s overworked, under-rested cabbies finally have a dedicated place to chill out, with the grand opening of a brand new “Taxi Clubhouse” specifically for drivers to relax.
The clubhouse, located at 22nd Street and Seventh Avenue in Chelsea, provides much-needed amenities often lacking for drivers working long shifts all over the city, such as bathrooms, food, beverages, and wifi, but also cool amenities like TVs, video games, a gym, and space to pray.
It also provides an official space for drivers to simply hang out with one another and discuss the day’s work. The clubhouse, sporting a yellow motif and various cab-related decor, saw a “soft opening” in January prior to Monday’s grand opening.
The 3,000-square-foot clubhouse, open to all 174,000 cab and rideshare drivers licensed by the Taxi & Limousine Commission, was funded by Marblegate Asset Management, a Greenwich, Connecticut private equity firm and the largest holder of taxi medallion debt. After agreeing to a loan-restructuring program and forgiving over $350 million in debt, Marblegate’s principal said Monday it’s time to give back to the industry and ensure it thrives well into the future.
“We consistently heard about the long hours, the difficulty in finding a place to take a break, or even use the restroom. That is where the idea for the Taxi Clubhouse was born,” said Andrew Milgram, Marblegate’s managing partner, at a Feb. 13 press conference. “Since our soft opening, the reaction from the driver community has been tremendous, and it is clear we’re onto something. This is just the beginning as we look to provide more spaces like this one for drivers across the city so they can meet their fundamental needs and restore dignity to this profession.”
Yellow and green cab drivers were the unwitting victims of a massive financial bubble in the taxi medallion industry, wherein both lenders and city government inflated prices till they reached upwards of $1 million each, only to collapse spectacularly as Uber and Lyft came to town and swiped up significant market share from taxis. Many cabbies were driven to financial ruin, and some to suicide.
Unsatisfied with an initial deal offer, cabbies embarked on a hunger strike outside City Hall that ultimately won them a better deal, the Medallion Relief Program. Marblegate agreed to cap all debt at $200,000 per person, with $30,000 of that covered by a city grant, and all debt guaranteed by the city.
More than 1,800 cabbies have gotten their loans forgiven so far. Ndiagne Diop, who has driven cabs for 20 years, has gotten $150,000 of debt forgiven, a “life-saving” intervention that reduced his monthly payments from $3,800 to $1,234, which is the highest any cabbie can pay under the MRP+ terms. Diop said he’s excited to be able to break apart his shifts, which last up to 11 hours apiece, with some vegging-out time at the clubhouse.
“This should’ve been here for a long time, thank God this guy thought of it,” said Diop. “Now, I can have my break. I usually stay in my cab for my break, because I have nowhere to go, if I move out, that’s a ticket. So now I can park, come here one hour, and go back to work. And it’ll be safe for the riders, because I’m fresh again.”
Diop and other cab drivers recently got their first raise in a decade approved by the TLC. The TLC also approved a raise for rideshare drivers in the same vote, but the raise was halted after Uber successfully sued the agency, arguing the pay hike was “arbitrary and capricious.” Uber drivers received a smaller pay increase of 6.39%.
Bhairavi Desai, the longtime head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance union, deemed the clubhouse — which Marblegate says will be the first of many — as an unprecedented investment in the people of the industry, rather than just the medallions and cars.
“It’s one thing to invest into the capital of this industry,” said Desai. “But to invest into the people that give that capital its meaning is sometimes a complete step that not everybody in private capital has taken. And certainly nobody else I’ve seen in private capital in this industry has taken. And so, I think this is something that’s really dignifying, it’s energizing.”
Desai urged the drivers she represents to check out the clubhouse and take some personal time to drink a coffee, lounge in a massage chair, and play a round or six of Ridge Racer on a free, old-fashioned arcade game.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to see somebody in this industry invest into their wellbeing,” said Desai. “So we really ask all drivers, whatever you’re driving, take the time out, take the time to take care of yourself, even if you come in for just a few minutes into this space, but come in, take that time out for yourself to breathe a little bit, to feel the sense of dignity and welcoming that this space allows for.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, himself the son-in-law of a cabbie, was on hand for the clubhouse opening, and said it demonstrated how far cabbies had come since the depths of the debt crisis to now have a place to chill out, paid for by a lender.
“When we set out to help cab drivers and resolve the medallion debt crisis and save the taxi industry, I don’t think we ever thought we’d end up here,” said the Senate Majority Leader. “In the first taxi clubhouse!”
This story has been updated with a quote from Senator Chuck Schumer and corrected to note Marblegate Asset Management is a private equity firm, not a hedge fund.