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.
Why I love congestion pricing but hate the taxi-Uber surcharge
For half a century the dream of taming New York City traffic with congestion pricing has eluded a Nobel economist, a billionaire mayor and legions of transit champions, myself included. Yet on Thursday I’ll be joining other advocates and stakeholders in court to ask a state judge to strike down the first phase of a congestion pricing plan.
The initial phase would raise hundreds of millions for subway repairs through surcharges on yellow cabs and Ubers in Manhattan’s central business district. My argument, submitted in an affidavit to the court, is that the surcharge is discriminatory, arbitrary and unjust. I’ll be asking Supreme Court Judge Lynn R. Kotler to invalidate the enabling legislation that Albany concocted last March with its customary shortsighted stealth.
And in the coming weeks, alongside thousands of fellow transit advocates, I’ll be campaigning for fair and more inclusive congestion pricing that eases the squeeze on cab drivers and medallion owners rather than tightening it. (Disclosure: Since Nov. 1 I have been retained by taxi medallion interests to evaluate legislation and regulations concerning congestion pricing surcharges for for-hire vehicles.)
Such a program is simple to sketch. Indeed, an expert panel convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo did just that a year ago in its “Fix NYC” report. Just charge private cars and trucks a toll to enter the central business district via 60th Street or an East River bridge and add a surcharge to trips in cabs and Ubers in Manhattan south of 96th Street. Using a spreadsheet model I’ve spent years constructing, the panel found that this combination could raise over $1 billion a year for mass transit while cutting travel times by more than 10% on trips within and to the CBD.
Alas, this comprehensive approach didn’t advance past first base last year. The legislature’s consolation prize—taxicab and Uber surcharges—was really a sucker-punch to cabbies and medallion owners. Here’s why:
Without a charge for personal vehicles, city and suburban motorists will fill up much of the street space cleared out by diminished use of for-hire vehicles. In effect, taxis and Ubers will subsidize faster rides in private cars.
Uber and Lyft can use their deep pockets to absorb some of the new surcharges at the outset. Yellow cabs, with no such cushion and with fares strictly regulated, will lose even more business.
Every fare trip in a yellow is continuously wired by GPS to city officials; not so for Uber or Lyft. Guess which sector will have an easier time evading the surcharge?
Albany mandated surcharge discounts of nearly 75% for so-called pooled rides in Ubers and Lyfts, even if no additional passenger comes on board—another nail in the coffin of yellow cabbies.
It’s no exaggeration to speak of coffins. In the past 17 months eight professional drivers have taken their own lives—an epidemic without precedent and unquestionably related to the industry’s financial meltdown.
The policy remedy is straightforward. The Legislature should delay any yellow-cab surcharge until congestion fees on cars and trucks take effect. It should require Ubers and Lyfts to be wired up to the Taxi and Limousine Commission and add a “trawling” fee on each minute those vehicles spend hanging out in Manhattan, clogging traffic while waiting to be pinged. And it should dial down the discount on pooled rides to a level that encourages shared trips but discourages gaming the system.
Such a program could generate more revenue for transit than the surcharges that the legislature enacted last March, while preserving the taxicab sector, according to my traffic modeling.
The first step is for the judge to permanently enjoin the surcharges. Legislative sausage-making that could peremptorily plunge thousands of hard-working New Yorkers deeper into the fiscal abyss may have been the norm in 2018, but it’s time to turn the page.
Cabbies along with the rest of us deserve lawmaking that’s judicious, not capricious. And congestion pricing is too essential to our city to discredit it before it’s had a chance to shine.
Woman, 34, critically hurt after falling to the ground as she exited yellow taxi in Brooklyn
A 34-year-old woman was critically hurt in Brooklyn on Sunday when she took a bad fall to the ground after she stepped out a yellow cab, police said.
Cops responding to the scene found the woman lying on her back on Waverly Ave. about 100 feet from its intersection with Willoughby Ave. in Clinton Hill about 4:45 a.m., authorities said.
She had injures to her right ankle, a puncture in her left thigh, bruising on her left elbow and swelling on the right side of her face. Medics took her to New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in critical condition.
Surveillance video from the scene shows the woman getting out of the cab on the driver’s side. Though police initially thought the cab struck her, the video showed that wasn’t the case, an NYPD spokesman said.
Woman Delivers Baby Girl in Backseat of N.Y.C. Taxi: ‘Everyone Started Clapping,’ Witness Says
A 33-year-old woman delivered her baby girl in the backseat of a yellow cab on New York City’s Upper East Side, Tuesday morning, PEOPLE confirms.
New York police found the woman with her baby inside the vehicle on the corner of East 70th Street and Second Avenue after receiving a call about a “female in active labor” at around 7:55 a.m. local time.
“Upon arrival, officers observed a 33-year-old female who had just given birth to a baby girl inside of a yellow taxi at that location,” a spokesperson for the New York Police Department tells PEOPLE.
“Police did not assist in the birth of the baby.”
The woman and the baby were taken to New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in stable condition and remained in the hospital late Tuesday morning, the spokesperson says.
A witness, Oliya Fedun of Scootercaster, tells PEOPLE that bystanders thought there had been “an accident or someone sick.” Fedun says that, along with the taxi driver, there was another man tending to the woman.
“He was making sure everything was covered from the cameras and then he collected her items from the cab,” Fedun says. “Once the baby was brought out everyone started clapping! ‘Oh, it was a baby! She was giving birth!’ The cheering crowd made the whole experience very powerful.”
Video of the scene shared on social media showed police and medical officials surrounding the car, and shielding the mother and baby with white sheets as they worked to place both in an ambulance.
The woman isn’t the first to have a headline-making birth in 2019.
On New Year’s Day, 32-year-old Jessica Killian, of Grover, North Carolina, gave birth along the side of the road as she and Randy Sain headed to a nearby hospital, according to the Gaston Gazette.
Sain was able to catch the baby boy, who they named Atom Bomb Sain, before he hit the floor of the car.
“If he wouldn’t have been there, there’s no telling what would’ve happened to Atom,” Killian told the publication of Sain. “He could’ve went to the floorboard or anything could’ve happened to him. He pulls over, jumps over to my side and basically caught him as he was coming down.”
And Killian said the baby’s name is fitting: “He really did come out like a bomb.”
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