Is This the Worst It’s Ever Been for N.Y.C. Cabbies?
Interview with Brian M. Rosenthal, the investigative reporter on the NY Times Metro Desk who won a Pulitzer Prize for his exposé of New York City’s taxi industry
Photo Credit: Jakayla Toney
Is This the Worst It’s Ever Been for N.Y.C. Cabbies? (NY Times)
Q. How has the pandemic deepened the crisis that New York City’s taxi drivers find themselves in?
A. The pandemic has been very hard for the taxi industry. The city is not operating at its normal level, and a lot of the things that are the most restricted right now are the things that help the taxi industry most. I’m speaking about air travel, tourism, Broadway and generally Midtown Manhattan, where taxis concentrate their work.
A lot of cab drivers have stopped working altogether, because of the lack of customers and because of the risk of getting sick on the job.
While some industries have at least recovered a little and even Uber has significantly recovered, the taxi industry is still crippled. The most available revenue data showed that the industry was making 81 percent less money than it did a year ago. Cabdrivers are just unable to make a living at that level.
You revealed last year that thousands of cabbies were trapped in exploitative loans they couldn’t afford in order to buy a taxi medallion — the permit that lets a driver own a yellow cab. Now, as the pandemic has caused ridership to plummet, are drivers expected to keep paying off loans?
For the most part, the lenders have not required medallion owner drivers to pay during the pandemic. But that is now changing.
Some of the lenders that in the beginning were not requiring payments have now started to ask for payments. There’s a sense in the industry that lenders are increasingly going to be cracking down.
Before the virus hit, the state’s attorney general accused the city of committing fraud by artificially inflating the value of medallions. She planned to sue the city for $810 million, and then use the money to compensate drivers. Has that happened?
That lawsuit threat is on hold, much like many things in the pandemic. We have not gotten word from the attorney general about whether and when she will proceed with the lawsuit.
What other help is on the way for drivers, if any?
Some lenders are already restructuring loans, and the city has also set up a driver assistance center to help cab drivers renegotiate.
Now there is a new proposal from the Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents a lot of owner-drivers. The plan is based around a mass loan restructure, where all loans would be reset and reduced down to $125,000, with favorable terms that would allow the drivers to pay off the loan.
Lenders would have to agree to that. But in return, they would receive a guarantee from the city that if any of those loans fail, the city would step in and backstop the payments. Then the city would get protections from the lawsuit that the attorney general filed.
The proposal has gotten the support of the city comptroller, who is not only in charge of overseeing the finances of the city, but is also a leading candidate to be mayor. Presumably if he wins that race, he could implement this proposal himself.
What does the industry’s future look like?
The industry will endure and innovate. But depending on what happens in the next few months, the city could lose a generation of these hard-working immigrant drivers who are facing increasing financial distress.
The TLCMKT Newsletter is written by Dawood Mian, Founder & CEO of TLCMKT. I cover the NYC ridehailing industry and related news. Search TLCMKT for TLC cars, parts, service, accessories, professional services, reviews & more. Find great deals at TLCMKT.COM.