New York City’s yellow taxi drivers were once fiercely competitive with each other, but these days, they have Uber, Lyft and other competition to worry about — competition, they say, that has pushed many cabbies to the brink of financial ruin, with their expensive medallions now hardly worth anything.
Some fear that desperation is the reason one of their fellow drivers is missing. Kenny Chow has been gone 11 days as of Tuesday, and his brother Richard Chow has been posting fliers near where Kenny’s abandoned taxi was found, near the corner of 86th Street and East End Avenue.
“I was looking around the park. He never showed,” said Richard Chow. “I’m very, very worried about my brother.”
Richard said his brother owed $700,000 on the loan for his medallion, working 14-hour shifts without a partner. The missing man’s wife was also recently diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance organized a rally on the Upper East Side in the wake of Kenny Chow’s disappearance, and the anger of the roughly two dozen drivers was palpable. Asked to raise a hand if they were in financial trouble, everyone’s hands went up.
Then, fear and frustration spilled out.
“No one really seems to give a damn,” one driver said. “I invest in this city.”
Nicolae Hent, who immigrated from Romania in 1988, angrily disparaged Uber, Lyft and Juno — the ride share companies are only loosely regulated in New York City, compared to yellow taxi drivers — saying, “I may speak with an accent, but I’m not stupid.”
Hent’s best friend was one of four cab drivers to recently die by suicide. He believes app-based services like Uber are driving taxi drivers into desperation. Taxi medallions were worth over $1 million in 2014; now, they sell for as little as $175,000, according to The New York Times. Once a guaranteed livelihood and retirement fund, especially for new immigrants, the value of the medallion has nosedived amid the rise in ride-sharing apps.
Kenny Chow himself purchased a medallion in 2010, after turning to driving as a profession in 2008, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. He’d been a jeweler for 20 years before that, but had to change professions when his employer closed shop. The “devoted” father and husband worked hard to rebuild his life with the hope of having stable work “but instability of the past five years caused him increasing anxiety,” Hent said.
Hent said “nothing’s being done to help,” adding that he believes it’s because of “pressure from up above.”
He points to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s failed 2015 proposal to cap new permits, something that current City Council Speaker Corey Johnson conceded on WNYC Radio was a mistake not to support.
“I’ll give myself some demerits for not understanding the depth of this and grasping the issues that we would come to face over three years ago. I was skeptical at the time. I didn’t sign on as a sponsor of that bill,” Johnson said.
He now tells News 4 the Council is looking at several bills to regulate the for-hire industry.
“The City Council understands that the taxi industry is going through a seismic shift right now, one that has caused a lot of pain for drivers who are worried about their livelihoods,” he said in a statement. “The Council is looking at several bills to regulate the for-hire vehicle industry, both to protect drivers and to cut down on congestion, as they go through the legislative process.”
But that might be too late for a driver like Janna Stroe. The 60-year-old still owes $500,000 on her medallion.
“I have to live another life to pay this loan,” she said, adding that losing her husband to cancer piled onto her debt.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance says bills to regulate ride-sharing app companies notwithstanding, the group’s main economic concerns remain unaddressed — like regulating one minimum fare rate across the industry so that no one company can go lower.
A spokesman for Mayor de Blasio recently told The New York Times that new regulations on for-hire vehicles were being discussed again: “The mayor has been clear about the need to re-evaluate our options in the face of explosive growth we’re seeing in the industry,” spokesman Austin Finan said.
Uber applies for patent to spot drunken passengers
The technology could spot changes in walking speed, user typos, and swaying motions
Popular taxi app Uber has applied for a patent to use artificial intelligence to determine how drunk a potential passenger may be.
According to the company’s application, made to the US patent office, the new technology would allow them to spot “uncharacteristic user activity” by monitoring customers’ activity as they use the Uber app. These variables could include: walking speed, unusual spelling errors made while typing on the app, the angle at which a potential passenger holds the phone and whether the phone is moving in an abnormal way.
Thought the patent application does not explicitly refer to identifying drunk or otherwise inebriated passengers – it uses terms such as ‘predicting user state using machine learning” and “uncharacteristic user states” – The Guardian points out that vetting intoxicated passengers is the most likely application for a system built to spot typos or unusual swaying motions.
The patent application suggests various ways that Uber may tailor their service if a user is seen to be exhibiting “uncharacteristic user activity”. For example, they may be directed to a well-lit pickup point, or they may be matched with a driver trained to deal with drunk passengers. Uber also suggest that intoxicated passengers may be prevented from “pooling” with other app users.
Many critics have suggested that Uber’s new proposed system may allow drivers to exploit intoxicated passengers. The company has seen several serious data breaches over the last few years, and in 2014 came under criticism for its use of the controversial ‘God View’ software program. The software allowed the company to monitor real-time locations of customers and drivers. In 2016, the company’s former forensic investigator Samuel Ward Spangenberg concluded that the software was abused by employees who used it to track ex-partners and celebrities.
In a statement, Uber said: “We are always exploring ways that our technology can help improve the Uber experience for riders and drivers. We file patent applications on many ideas, but not all of them actually become products or features.”
from NME website
New York City Uber Driver Has License Suspended After Kicking Out 2 Kissing Women
An Uber driver who booted two kissing women out of his car had his livery license suspended on Tuesday.
The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which licenses about 180,000 drivers of car services and yellow cabs, called his behavior “ridiculous.”
“It’s 2018 in New York City, and this isn’t the way we live anymore,” commission spokesman Allen Fromberg said.
The women, Alex Iovine and Emma Pichl, a couple in their 20s, were on their way from Brooklyn to Manhattan on Saturday when they exchanged what they called a “peck” on the lips. They said driver Ahmad El Boutari, who’s 35 and lives in Brooklyn, forced them out and a confrontation ensued.
A cellphone video taken by Pichl shows the driver saying that kissing in an Uber is illegal.
“You can’t do this in the car,” the driver says.
“Kissing is not illegal,” one of the women responds. “Why are we not allowed to kiss in an Uber?”
“It’s disrespectful,” the driver says.
Fromberg noted that the city does not regulate behavior in Uber cars and similar services. But he called what the driver did to the women “an unacceptable and repugnant act that will not be tolerated.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission is investigating.
Uber has behavior rules amounting to, basically, no sex in cars. But Iovine and Pichl said they were doing no such thing.
El Boutari told the Daily News that the women played loud music on their phones and one put her feet on the seat.
But Iovine said that was not true.
“We would never try to upset someone in their own car,” she said by telephone.
Then, “after we had peck-kissed, sitting on opposite sides of the back seat and not even touching, I saw him looking at me in the rearview mirror,” she said. “He was very angry.”
She said they were in lower Manhattan when the driver pulled over, opened a rear door and ordered them to “get out of my car.”
During the altercation, when Pichl started recording the scene, “he grabbed Emma’s arm to try to get her to stop,” Iovine said. “It was kind of a scary experience.”
Uber, which is based in San Francisco, has removed El Boutari’s access to its app, saying it does not tolerate discrimination. It said it is investigating.
Uber CEO says New York City should charge a fee on all ride-hailing trips to help out struggling taxi drivers
The chief executive of Uber said New York City should impose a fee on app-hailed rides and taxis to help taxi medallion owners who are struggling with debt.
CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told the New York Post on Monday that the city should put the surcharge into a fund to help taxi owners who bought their medallions at sky-high prices. He did not say how much the fee should be.
“In circumstances where medallion owner-operators are having a hard time, where technology has changed and demand patterns has changed their environment, we would support some kind of fee or pool to be formed, a hardship fund, call it,” Khosrowshahi said.
Because taxi drivers in New York City are required to own them, medallions were once extremely valuable and highly coveted because the demand for cabs was stable. But in the years since Uber and similar companies disrupted the industry, a medallion’s value has fallen from as much as $1 million to $200,000.
Drivers working for Uber and other app-based companies don’t need medallions, and many taxi owners who thought their medallions would continue to grow in value say they are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Advocates have blamed five apparent suicides of drivers since last November on the taxi industry’s woes.
In the most recent case, yellow cab owner-driver Yu Mein Chow was found floating in the East River last month. The city medical examiner has not determined a cause of death, but Chow’s family members believe he jumped to his death.
A livery cab driver shot himself to death outside City Hall in February after writing a Facebook post blaming politicians for the taxi industry’s decline.
Groups that represent drivers blasted Khosrowshahi’s proposal.
“Dara Khosrowshahi’s proposals are a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents Uber drivers, said, Khosrowshahi “needs to address the widespread hardship faced by drivers for his own company before considering taking another cut from our sub-minimum-wage pay.”
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