A taxi driver named Roy Kim recently became the eighth professional driver to die by suicide in New York over the last year.
The city’s taxi commissioner, Meera Joshi, has characterized the deaths as an epidemic. The stories have drawn attention to the economic despair in the industry and prompted the City Council to weigh new legislation to help taxi owners reduce their debt and to increase driver wages.
Each case is different, and it is difficult to know why someone decides to take their life. Most of the drivers were immigrants in their 50s and 60s, some of whom had told friends and family that they were having a difficult time making a living as Uber began to dominate the ride-hailing industry.
Three of the drivers owned a taxi medallion — the aluminum plate required to drive a cab in New York that once sold for more than $1 million. It is now worth as little as $200,000.
Here’s what we know about Kim and the broader crisis.
Who was Roy Kim?
Kim was a 58-year-old Korean immigrant who lived in Queens. He had driven a taxi for more than four years and bought a medallion last year for about $578,000 — an occasion he celebrated by having a sushi dinner with a driver he met years ago while waiting for passengers at Kennedy International Airport.
But Kim had complained to friends this year that he could not find fares. He began working more often, eventually driving seven days a week. Still, his friends were surprised by his death.
“There’s no other reason but the financial aspect,” said Kyung Ryong Kang, the friend and fellow driver who had celebrated at dinner with him last year. “It was harder and harder to survive.”
On Nov. 5, Kim was found hanging by a belt from the doorway to his bedroom, police said. He had an adult son who lives in South Korea. Friends have been unable to reach Kim’s son.
A group of drivers recently held a vigil at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens to remember him. Kang said he misses seeing Kim at the airport taxi lot.
“He was a generous person and always bought coffee for us,” he said.
Were the other drivers worried about their finances?
Two other drivers who took their lives also owned taxi medallions: Nicanor Ochisor, who was from Romania, and Kenny Chow, who was from Myanmar. Both told friends they were worried about paying off their debt.
In February, a black-car driver named Douglas Schifter killed himself with a shotgun in front of City Hall. He had written on Facebook that Uber had flooded the streets with vehicles and complained about having to work 100 hours a week to survive.
Drivers for Uber and other car services have also raised concerns about low wages. The other drivers who died by suicide were: Fausto Luna, an Uber driver; Abdul Saleh, a taxi driver who had leased his vehicle; Danilo Castillo, a livery driver; and Alfredo Perez, a livery driver.
“This tragedy underscores the importance of finding new ways for government, the industry and lenders to work in unity to address the financial challenges that are weighing so heavily on our licensees,” Joshi said in a statement after Kim’s death.
What is the city doing to help drivers?
In August, the City Council approved a cap on Uber and other ride-hailing vehicles — the first major U.S. city to do so. The council is considering a separate set of bills that would establish a health fund for drivers and create “driver assistance centers” to offer mental health counseling and financial advice.
Corey Johnson, the council speaker, said the city was also looking at options to help medallion owners saddled with massive debt, from a partial bailout to a hardship fund. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a group that represents drivers, is urging the city to work with banks and philanthropic groups to write off 20 percent of taxi owners’ outstanding debt.
At the vigil for Kim, the group’s leader Bhairavi Desai had a message for taxi drivers who are struggling: The city is finally addressing the problem, and things will get better soon.
“We know change is coming,” she said.
After Ochisor’s death, his family raised more than $30,000 to help pay off his medallion. An anonymous donor also contacted his son Gabriel Ochisor, wanting to help longtime drivers like his father. The donor sent him a batch of money orders, each worth $1,000, to deliver to 217 owners who bought their medallion before 1990 and still drive their taxi.
Ochisor is trying to reach all the drivers to mail the gifts, which will be sent with a letter from the donor.
“Please know that your 3 decades (or more!) of service are appreciated and that my life has been made better by your having worked the streets,” the letter says.
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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