Taxicab medallions have been in the news in recent weeks due to the widely publicized involvement of Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former attorney, in the New York City taxicab business.
Much of Cohen’s wealth in recent years had been attributed to the steadily rising value of the taxicab medallions he owned, but like all cryptocurrencies, Cohen’s supposed medallion wealth was merely an illusion that is no more.
Cabs cannot operate in New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Boston unless they have a medallion, which effectively is a city permit to carry passengers for hire.
Although not widely understood, the artificial, politically imposed limit on the number of medallions a city will issue — an artificial shortage if you will — for many years led to a steady increase in the market value of medallions as the number of taxi passengers increased.
That rising value, and the returns medallion owners expected to earn, created many distortions in the New York taxi business, including gypsy cabs and the absence of cabs in poorer neighborhoods.
Limiting the number of taxi medallions a city would issue has a parallel in the crypto world — an artificial limit on the number of units of a particular cryptocurrency that could ever be issued.
For example, according to the design of the bitcoin algorithm and database, supposedly developed by someone named Satoshi Nakamoto, no more than 21 million bitcoins will ever be created.
Further, the computational effort required to “produce” each additional bitcoin steadily increases as that limit is approached, further enhancing that sense of scarcity.
The design of the bitcoin algorithm has been seen as brilliant, but in fact it is not, for artificial scarcities do not produce sustainable value.
In each instance, there is no real value — readily available permits issued without limit have no resale value. Cryptocurrencies that can easily be replicated under a different name have no intrinsic value, they have no claim on real-world assets, there is no “there” there.
For a while, these artificial limits worked: Values rose steadily, and the owners of these scarce items got rich. Then technology reared its ugly head, in the form of computerized ride-sharing — Uber, Lyft and their many knock-offs — and cryptocurrency “forking,” such as bitcoin begetting bitcoin cash and bitcoin gold.
According to one report, the price of a New York taxicab medallion peaked at over $1 million in 2013. Currently, they are priced as low as $175,000, a price decline over 80 percent. Boston and Chicago taxi medallions have seen sharp price declines, too.
Comparable price drops have occurred in the crypto world. Based on data from www.coinmarketcap.com, at 1 p.m., Eastern Time, Thursday, bitcoin, the most valuable cryptocurrency, was selling for $7,529, down 63 percent from its peak price of $20,089 last Dec. 17.
Bitcoin price recoveries since then have quickly petered out. For example, after hitting a low of $6,636 on April 6, bitcoin recovered to a peak of $9,965 on May 5 before beginning its current price plunge.
Other major cryptocurrencies have experienced similar price declines. After peaking at $1,433 on Jan. 13 of this year, at 1 p.m. Thursday, Ether, the second most-valuable crypto, was priced at $585, down 59 percent from its peak.
Ripple, XRP, the third most-valuable crypto, peaked at $3.84 on Jan. 4 before beginning its price plunge. At 1 p.m. Thursday, XRP was priced at $0.623, a price drop of 84 percent.
The total market value of all cryptocurrencies peaked at $595 billion on Jan. 18. Nearly four months later, that number has dropped to $333 billion, a loss in market value of $262 billion, or 44 percent.
While many investors have only experienced paper losses on their cryptocurrency investments, the substantial crypto trading activity in recent months suggests that actual, realized losses suffered by crypto investors are in the tens of billions of dollars, if not much more.
Although there is no hard data on the extent to which crypto investors have made leveraged bets, by financing their crypto purchases with credit card advances or by refinancing their home mortgage, anecdotal reports suggest that such debt-fueled speculating has been extensive.
Many taxicab medallion purchases were financed, too. The subsequent drop in medallion prices has led to many medallion foreclosures and substantial losses to lenders. At least two credit unions have failed due to losses on their medallion loans.
Lenders to crypto investors will suffer losses, too. Often, though, they will not have realized that they had financed a cryptocurrency speculation.
There is every reason to believe cryptocurrency prices, like taxi medallion prices, will continue to decline because in a very fundamental sense, they have no real value. As I have written in previous Hill op-eds, cryptocurrencies do not function well as money, and they have been, and will continue to be, a terrible store of value.
Worst, unlike taxi medallions, cryptocurrencies generate no income or cash flow. Consequently, the only reason to invest in a cryptocurrency is the expectation of endless price appreciation, which requires a belief that the “greater fool theory” will work indefinitely.
That most definitely will not be the case for taxicab medallions, or for cryptocurrencies.
Taxi driver dies after setting himself on fire to protest carpool app
A South Korean taxi driver set himself on fire and died Monday to protest a carpooling service proposed by a company that operates the country’s most popular chat app.
The 57-year-old driver doused himself in a flammable liquid and then lit his clothing while sitting in a taxi near parliament, police and the fire department said.
Unionized taxi drivers have held rallies in the capital, Seoul, to protest the carpooling app proposed by Kakao Mobility, which they say threatens their jobs.
Kakao Mobility, the transportation service arm of top mobile messenger operator Kakao Corp., said Friday it was testing the carpooling app despite opposition from taxi drivers who want the government to refuse permission for the service.
“We are still in the middle of a tug-of-war against the government to stop the carpool service,” said an official at the Korea National Joint Conference of Taxi Association.
A spokeswoman for Kakao Mobility said the company extended its sympathies to the family of the taxi driver.
“We feel sorry and sad and express our condolences,” the spokeswoman said. She declined further comment.
The transport ministry was not immediately available for comment.
NY: Uber, Lyft drivers secure $17.22 minimum wage in new TLC rules
Tens of thousands of drivers with Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing services in the city are set to receive a hefty pay raise.
The Taxi and Limousine Commission’s Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve the Driver Income and Transparency Rules, which guarantee a minimum hourly wage of $17.22 (after expenses) to more than 80,000 drivers who work for larger app-based companies such as Uber, Lyft, Via and Juno. A higher minimum wage also was set for drivers with wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
The new rules mean 96 percent of ride-hail drivers in the city will get an additional $10,000 in income per year, according to the TLC.
“New York City is the first city globally to recognize that the tens of thousands of men and women who are responsible for providing increasingly popular rides that begin with the touch of a screen deserve to make a livable wage and protection against companies from unilaterally reducing it,” TLC chair Meera Joshi said following the vote. “Convenience costs, and going forward, that cost will no longer be borne by the driver.”
Drivers will be paid based on a per-minute, per-mile minimum trip formula once the rules go into effect, which is expected to happen by mid-January 2019.
Ride-hail companies will be responsible for ensuring drivers are paid appropriately based on the new rules. The TLC also will be making a wage calculator available on its website so that drivers can determine how much their employer should be paying them.
Uber and Lyft on Tuesday warned that the new rules stifle competition in the industry and would result in higher fares for customers while decreasing availability.
“Uber supports efforts to ensure that full-time drivers in NYC — whether driving with taxi, limo or Uber — are able to make a living wage, without harming outer borough riders who have been ignored by yellow taxis and underserved by mass transit,” Uber’s director of public affairs Jason Post said. “The TLC’s implementation of the City Council’s legislation to increase driver earnings will lead to higher than necessary fare increases for riders while missing an opportunity to deal with congestion in Manhattan’s central business district.”
The TLC also did not consider that some companies issue driver incentives and bonuses to ensure reliability and accessibility in areas outside of Manhattan when it came up with the new wage formula, according to Post.
Describing the rules as a “step backward for New Yorkers,” Lyft took issue with a loophole in the wage calculator that it said allows companies to petition for their own, lower utilization rate within the formula. The company also argued against an “eleventh-hour” rule addition that sets a different minimum pay rate for trips that take drivers outside of the five boroughs.
“Lyft believes all drivers should earn a livable wage and we are committed to helping drivers reach their goals,” a spokesman for Lyft said Tuesday. “Unfortunately, the TLC’s proposed pay rules will undermine competition by allowing certain companies to pay drivers lower wages, and disincentive drivers from giving rides to and from areas outside Manhattan.”
While ride-hail companies oppose the regulations, the Independent Drivers Guild, representing over 70,000 for-hire vehicle drivers in the city, lauded the decision.
“All workers deserve the protection of a fair, livable wage and we are proud to be setting the new bar for contractor workers’ rights in America,” said Jim Conigliaro Jr., founder of the Independent Drivers Guild.
Via also welcomed the new wage rules on Tuesday.
“As the industry leader in driver earnings in New York City, we are looking forward to working with the TLC on implementing this rule,” the company said in an emailed statement.
Joshi, meanwhile, said that she believes New Yorkers would be willing to pay more and wait a little longer if it meant their drivers are being paid a fair wage.
New York City taxi and rideshare drivers to receive a living wage
We’ve talked before about how hard it is for folks driving for Lyft and Uber to break even. Things aren’t so hot for cab drivers, either: as ridesharing becomes more prevalent by the day, those who own their own taxi or drive for someone else are finding it harder to make a living. The drop in revenue going into the pockets of New York City Taxi medallion owners has been so extreme that drivers have been forced to work 100-hour weeks just to stay out of the red. Others, feeling that their lives were ruined by mounting debt, out of desperation committed suicide. Today, New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission decided that they’d do something about it.
Today, New York’s City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission approved measures to enact minimum pay requirements for app-based for-hire vehicles (FHV) like Uber, Lyft, and Juno. The new pay structure is set to take effect early in the new year.
The $26.51 per hour gross pay floor (estimated to amount to $17.22 per hour, less expenses) comes after “growing evidence of declining driver pay” was confirmed by a labor study, commissioned by the TLC, which concluded that 85 percent of drivers in NYC were earning less than the local minimum wage of $15 an hour. The new requirements will increase the average driver’s take-home pay by an estimated $9,600 per year.
Advocacy groups like the Independent Driver’s Guild and Amalgamated Transit Union have celebrated the change. “All workers deserve the protection of a fair, livable wage and we are proud to be setting the new bar for contractor workers’ rights in America,” Conigliaro, Jr., founder of IDG, wrote in a press statement.
So of course, rideshare companies are throwing a fit.
According to Gizmodo, Uber thinks it’s fantastic that their drivers will finally be able to make a living wage, but insinuated that the extra cash required to ensure that their employees can afford to eat AND pay the rent would come out of the pockets of those using the rideshare service. Lyft? They’re thrilled that folks can afford to maybe set their kids up at a decent daycare while simultaneously paying all of their bills. But they warn that “the TLC’s proposed pay rules will undermine competition by allowing certain companies to pay drivers lower wages, and disincentive drivers from giving rides to and from areas outside Manhattan.”
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