NEW YORK - Some New York City taxi drivers have been living in their cabs for more than a month to protest the crushing debt they are under due to the high prices their medallions cost and a lack of paying fares during the pandemic.
Now some of them are going on a hunger strike as a sign of their desperation. They are looking for debt forgiveness from the city.
Medallions, controlled by the city, rose in price to $1 million apiece. But with the arrival of services like Uber, their value has plummeted to less than $100,000.
MD Islam has been driving a cab for more than 13 years. He still owes more than $800,000 for his medallion. He's been at the protest for more than a month.
"In my lifetime I could not pay that loan. It's never possible," Islam says.
Many drivers bought in as the prices were rising to near their peak, often with terms that make it impossible for them to ever pay off the loan.
Mayor Bill de Blasio says bailing out the drivers is too costly and would send the wrong message to other people in debt.
"That's hundreds of millions of dollars and has a lot of other ramifications for other folks who have gone through tough situations and could ask for a bailout," de Blasio says.
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But without the bailout, the organization that represents taxi drivers says thousands of drivers will be left destitute.
"Without it, 6,000 yellow cab owner-driver families are going to sink into poverty and lifelong debt," Bhairavi Desai, the Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance says.
The city previously had offered to reduce monthly payments to $1,500 a month. The drivers say they need it cut to $800 a month in order to survive.
With the arrival of app-based car services in the city, the alliance says that heavy medallion and licensing fees, along with set rates, make competition impossible for cab drivers.
After a wave of taxi owner suicides in 2018, the city waived nearly $20 million in fees owed by drivers.
Then in 2020, the pandemic hit. The Taxi and Limousine Commission reported that trips fell as much as 84 percent from pre-virus days.