A hunger strike that had stretched into its fifteenth day ended in victory for New York City taxi drivers on Wednesday after they received hard-won concessions from the city around relieving the crippling debt they have been saddled with for generations.
The deal was struck between the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Marblegate Asset Management, the asset management firm that controls most of the city’s taxi medallion loans. Under the new agreement, Marblegate will restructure any outstanding loans to $US200,000 ($AU270,180) and will cap all debt payments at $US1,122 ($AU1,516) a month, in addition to guaranteeing all taxi drivers’ debt.
“Taxi workers have worked tirelessly to make New York City the most vibrant city in the world, and we refuse to leave them behind,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday. “I’m proud to have worked with Senator [Chuck] Schumer, NYTWA, and Marblegate to reach an equitable, sustainable solution that builds on the success we’ve achieved in reducing debt burdens for the hard-working drivers who keep our city moving.”
The city’s taxi medallions — the transferable permit system by which the city awards drivers the right to operate a yellow cab — notoriously had their value inflated by scumlords in the early aughts, with predatory lenders swooping in to make offers to the largely immigrant communities desperate to buy into a system they believed would help them to earn a living. This assumption wasn’t necessarily unfounded, either, particularly given that the city was explicitly touting the medallion system as “better than a stock” and a “path to a worry-free retirement.” But far from charting a course to the middle class, the medallions’ worth was eviscerated by the arrival of e-hail vehicle companies like Uber and Lyft in 2018. As it became apparent that the bubble had burst, New York City saw a spate of at least eight suicides by taxi drivers who had come to realise just how extreme their financial obligations were.
Taxi driver Erhan Tuncel, 61, for example, told the Guardian on Wednesday that the deal brokered between the cabbies and Marblehead would alleviate a great burden for him, given that his total medallion debt had been $US690,000 ($AU932,121) with monthly payments of $US3,800 ($AU5,133).
“The lower monthly payment is a huge break for every single one us,” Tuncel said. “It means we can put in a full day’s work and be happy with the money we take home because owning and operating a medallion in New York City is an expensive business. On top of the medallion payments, we take on all the expenses like insurance, maintaining the vehicle, the TLC fees, inspection fees – they all add up. I’m ecstatic and happy for all the owner-drivers who are going to get a huge break from this.”