• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Taxi drivers on the brink of financial ruin go to city council

ByElla E. Kidwell

Jun 24, 2019

Mouhamadou Aliyu has been a yellow taxi driver for 15 years. The Bronx resident, originally from the Ivory Coast, said buying a taxi medallion was once his version of the American dream. But then “the dream began to turn into a nightmare”.

Aliyu bought her medallion at an auction in 2004 for $331,000. He now owes $700,000 on the loan.

He says that since Uber came to town, he’s brought in just $54,000 a year. He says his four children, including one with special needs, are the reason he didn’t kill himself.

But he says he can sympathize with the taxi drivers who have – been crippled by financial difficulties, a crisis predicted by a report prepared for the city nine years ago.

The report says predatory lending tactics encouraged drivers to take out loans, driving medallion prices to unsustainable levels and creating a speculative bubble that would overwhelm taxi drivers.

“The city knowingly sold medallions at inflated values ​​to vulnerable immigrants,” Councilman Ritchie Torres said. “The city owes the drivers to bring relief.”

In 2014, the medallions sold for over $800,000. Fans now estimate they are only worth between $150,000 and $200,000.

Acting TLC Commissioner William Heinzen deflected attempts to blame his agency during a city council meeting on Monday.

“If you ask me if I’m sorry? If the folks at TLC feel sorry, yes,” Heinzen said, but when asked whether or not he feels “moral guilt,” Heinzen wouldn’t go that far.

“No. I feel a lot of pain and I feel sorry for the people who went through this,” Heinzen said.

Council members proposed four bills to better regulate the medallion industry. One would create a TLC office to report on its financial health. The package would also require greater scrutiny from medallion brokers and taxi operators.

Last year, the city council passed legislation to limit the number of Uber and other rental vehicle licenses. Although lawmakers say it’s a good start, more needs to be done to save the ailing medallion industry and its taxi drivers.