• Wed. Jun 29th, 2022

NYC to extend debt relief to taxi drivers after 2-week hunger strike

ByElla E. Kidwell

Nov 3, 2021

A dealing with New York’s largest taxi loan holder will save thousands of taxi drivers facing financial ruin after being forced into crippling debts due to exploitative practices.

Why is this important: New York officials reached the agreement after a two-week hunger strike by members of the city’s largest taxi drivers’ union, which appeal to the city to expand a driver debt relief program.

How we got here: To operate a taxi in town, drivers must purchase a medallion. But about 20 years ago, some industry leaders began artificially inflating the price of medallions, which the city regulates, a 2019 New York Times investigation found.

  • This meant that drivers who wanted to own their taxis had to take out bigger and bigger loans over the years – reaching $1 million at one point – “while lenders pocketed a hundred[s] millions of dollars, according to the Times.
  • After the market crash in 2014, thousands of drivers faced crippling debt and the loss of their livelihoods. The crisis pushed several drivers to commit suicide.

Driving the news: Marblegate, the city’s largest taxi loan holder, agreed to reduce the amount owed by each driver from an average of about $500,000 per driver to $170,000, according to the Times. The lender will also reduce payments to a maximum of $1,122 per month.

  • As part of the agreement, the city will pay Marblegate $30,000 for each driver and assume responsibility for loan repayment if a driver defaults.
  • Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said it would work with other lenders to secure the same terms, ‘which would effectively amount to the bailout drivers have been looking for since the debt crisis jumped into the spotlight in 2018’ , notes the Times.
  • “Cab drivers have worked tirelessly to make New York the most vibrant city in the world, and we refuse to leave them behind,” de Blasio said in a press release.

To note: The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), which has 25,000 members and which organized the hunger strike, is mainly composed people of color and immigrants.

What they say : “Today marks a new dawn, a new beginning for a workforce that has been through so much crisis and loss,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. said in a press release.

  • “Today we can say that owner-operators have achieved real debt relief and can begin to get their lives back. of their lives,” added Desai, who also thanked Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) for facilitating the deal.
  • “The city we love supported us and today we can say that we won!”
  • “It’s heartbreaking that it’s taken so much pain” for the city to recognize the needs of the workers, but it’s also “so powerful and inspiring to see … the willingness of these drivers to stand up for each other and to put their bodies on the line for each other,” New York Assemblyman Yuh-Line Niou (D), who has been on the 15-day hunger strike, told Axios.
  • The agreement shows that “we can actually prevent and stop and also help” when predatory lending is at stake. “We still have to continue this fight at the state level,” she added.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Spanish: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or Crisis text line by texting HOME to 741741.