Fausto Luna, a 58-year-old For-hire Vehicle (FHV) driver, was the seventh reported driver in New York City to commit suicide this year, when he jumped in front of a New York City subway train on September 26, in the Washington Heights neighborhood where he lived.
Advocates say the death points to continuing hardships faced by drivers since the advent of app-based transportation providers entering the NYC market, and comes after the suicides of six other New York City yellow cab and Black Car drivers this year.
New York’s City Council approved a temporary cap on ride-hail licenses in August, but there are already more than 100,000 for-hire vehicles on the city’s streets, up from 63,000 in 2015.
Advocates say drivers are falling into despair because there are simply too many drivers competing for fares. Meanwhile, the value of yellow taxi medallions has plunged from more than $1 million to $200,000, forcing some medallion owners into bankruptcy.
Uber, the company Mr. Luna worked for, described him as a highly-rated longtime driver who had consistent earnings over time. He reportedly had become depressed about growing debts leading up to his death, according to the New York Daily News.
“The for-hire vehicle industry is in a far-reaching crisis that is affecting thousands of families across our city right now,” said Ryan Price, executive director of the Independent Drivers Guild. Price added that app-based drivers, along with drivers across the industry, face “mounting bills and punishing shifts.”
Ira Goldstein, executive director of the Black Car Fund, said the death is further proof that drivers need more mental health counseling.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Luna’s untimely passing is just the latest evidence that the for-hire vehicle industry must address this crisis swiftly and comprehensively,” Goldstein said. “That is why the Black Car Fund is partnering with the Independent Drivers Guild to deliver mental wellness counseling, emergency response, psychologists, social workers and other helpful services directly to drivers.”
At a gathering in Washington Heights in honor of Mr. Luna, activists yelled at Taxi and Limousine Commissioner Meera Joshi, as she left the vigil, which she attended to show her respect. Ms. Joshi and the TLC have become the target of drivers’ ire.
Joshi had announced that she would be attending the vigil, which was held near the train station where Mr. Luna died. The drivers who heckled her represented just a small portion of the roughly 50 attendees.
TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg disputed the idea that Joshi was chased away. He and Joshi left the vigil after a group of people “with a very different agenda… essentially hijacked it with some of the most hateful and divisive language I’ve ever heard,” he said. “When it became clear that their bullying tactics wouldn’t allow for anyone to say or hear any constructive messages, we left so as not to allow this group to continue to detract from the unity that by all rights should have been at the center of the event. Under no circumstances, however, does this in any way diminish our commitment to drivers, or dissuade us from the work we’re doing to help them.”
Joshi’s attendance at the vigil was otherwise viewed as a positive gesture.