Stringer backs bailout plan for New York taxi drivers inundated in debt

NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai at the head of several rows cabs on Broadway next to City Hall on Nov. 12.
Mark Hallum

By Mark Hallum

City Comptroller Scott Stringer is endorsing a plan to resolve some of the crushing debt experienced by taxi drivers who purchased medallions and incurred financial hardships so severe that it drove some of them to suicide.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s proposal would give medallion holders refinancing at $125,000 with restructured financing over 20 years and 4% interest meaning a monthly mortgage of about $157.

According to Stringer, this would only cost the city $75 million over 20 years — a drop in the bucket when compared to the $90 billion budget.

Cab drivers turned out in force blocking two of the free lanes on Broadway and Murray Street next to City Hall and led by NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai.

“It is the only way that drivers are going to survive. It’s the only way the yellow cab industry is going to survive,” Desai said. “That is a small amount for a city with a budget of $90 billion and especially when there is an industry-specific fund with a surplus of over $40 million. We can get started, we cannot wait.”

According to Stringer, it may be worth it for the city to give in to the demands of cab drivers in offering help restructuring loans as it will save the municipality money in the long term by avoiding pricy lawsuits.

“Part of what I’m assessing here is that $75 million may end up being good for the city as well because it will limit our exposure to many lawsuits,” Stringer said. “Equally important, we’d be restructuring these loans so that the people who drive cabs and are making the payment can actually make payments.”

The proposal, first introduced in August, was not something Mayor Bill de Blasio voiced any objection to. In a press conference, he said whether or not the city adopted the plan would be contingent on the November presidential elections and the possibility of a new White House administration.

“Obviously, we’ve made a number of moves to try and shore up those drivers – the minimum wage was a crucial part of that. There’s a lot of other things that we have done and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, I want to give them a lot of credit for looking for every conceivable way to help drivers,” de Blasio said. “In terms of some kind of bigger effort, that really needs to come with federal dollars, especially in light of our fiscal crisis. But I think it’s important to recognize – I mean again, we are three months away from an election, if there is a change in Washington, I think the notion of potentially getting some kind of bailout becomes a much more real possibility.”

Other options for taxi drivers to make money in the midst of the pandemic, according to City Hall, is through the Get Food NYC Program which has seen about 10,000 TLC-licensed drivers. Through this, cab drivers have earned $39.5 million, according to the city, distributed 65 million meals to up to 702,000 households, which fed 1.3 million people in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some additional relief came in October when City Council passed a bill to create an Office of Financial Stability within the TLC which will evaluate the industry and provide oversight of income and expenses for medallion owners, medallion loan terms and market manipulation.

This was signed into law by the mayor, along with a number of other taxi-related bills, after being approved by City Council.

This was after State Attorney General Letitia James took action by filing an allegation of fraud against the city for the inflated medallion rate from 2004 to 2017, which comes to about $810 million.

In May 2018, as one of many taxi driver suicides, Yu Mein Chow, 56, of Flushing took his own life which his family attributed to owing $700,000 on a medallion loan that quickly plummeted in value to around $200,000. His vehicle was found near Carl Schurz Park.

At the height of their value in 2014, taxi medallions were worth up to $1.3 million.