New York City is waiving nearly $20 million in fees owed by taxi cab owners in an effort to ease their financial burden after a string of driver suicides. Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) Chairwoman Meera Joshi told the New York Postin October that it’s prudent to pause collection of the fees “at a time when every penny counts” for taxi owners.
Eight drivers have committed suicide in the city over the past year. Advocates say the deaths point to continuing hardships faced by drivers since the advent of app-based transportation services. The most recent was Roy Kim, 58, a yellow-cab driver and medallion owner, who hanged himself at his home November 5, according to the Chief Medical Examiner’s office. Prior to that, Uber driver Fausto Luna, 58, jumped in front of an A train on Sept. 26 because of massive debt. In June, cash-strapped yellow cabby Abdul Saleh, 59, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment. In May, yellow cab driver Yu Mein “Kenny” Chow, 56, jumped into the East River. In March, cabbie Nicanor Ochisor, 65, hanged himself in his garage in Maspeth. Black car driver Douglas Schifter, 61, killed himself with a shotgun outside City Hall on Feb. 5, leaving a scathing note blaming the city for his woes. In December 2017, Livery driver Danilo Corporan Castillo, 57, wrote a suicide note on the back of a summons and jumped out the window of his Manhattan apartment. A month earlier, Livery driver Alfredo Perez hanged himself.
Councilman Mark Levine (D-Washington Heights) has been pushing legislation to provide longer-term solutions for medallion owners and asked for the break for taxi drivers already on the brink, financially. Levine said: “It’s critical that we take steps to help out the drivers who have seen their life savings evaporate through no fault of their own.”
The city usually requires hacks to pay $1,650 every two years – a biennial $550 taxi-medallion renewal, six $90 inspection fees and a $10 renewal for their medallion. Handicapped-accessible medallion owners only have to pay $540 for inspections. With 11,286 regular medallions on the streets and 2,301 accessible ones, that’s nearly $20 million in fees that the city is now waiving.
Levine’s bill would require the TLC to conduct a study of medallion owners’ and drivers’ debt and propose ways to help them out. The city could try to recoup the fees in the future.