The New York City Medical Examiner has determined that the November 5 death of cab driver Roy Kim was the eighth driver suicide in New York City this past year. Mr. Kim, 58, tragically hanged himself with a belt in his Bayside home; he was reportedly more than $500,000 in debt after purchasing a yellow taxi medallion for around $580,000 in 2017, according to the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC).
According to a statement from the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Mr. Kim was “hardworking, quiet, and dignified. He worked six days a week, up to 14 hours a day.”
Advocates say the suicides point to continuing hardships faced by drivers since the advent of app-based transportation providers in the city. 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.
“The yellow taxi industry is going through a crisis and we should be responsible to be part of the solution.” said New York City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez.
New York’s City Council has formed a task force to study the plight of TLC-regulated drivers. City Council approved a temporary cap on TLC licenses in August, but there are already more than 100,000 for-hire vehicles on city streets, up from 63,000 in 2015. Advocates say the glut of cars forces drivers to compete for scarce fares. Meanwhile, the value of the taxi medallions has plunged from more than $1 million to $200,000, forcing some medallion owners into bankruptcy.
New York City recently decided to waive nearly $20 million in fees owed by taxi cab owners in an effort to ease their financial burden. TLC Chairwoman Meera Joshi told the New York Post in October that it’s prudent to pause collection of the fees “at a time when every penny counts” for taxi owners.
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 also require the TLC to conduct a study of medallion owners’ and drivers’ debt, and propose ways to help them out.
“The For-Hire Vehicle industry is in a far-reaching crisis that is affecting thousands of families across our city right now,” the Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) said in a statement. “Years of sub-minimum wage pay, mounting bills, exploitative bosses and punishing shifts have taken a great toll on our city’s for-hire drivers.”
The IDG encourages drivers who are feeling low or distressed to reach out to NYC Well by texting “Well” to 65173, calling 1-888-NYC-Well, or chatting online with a counselor at: https://nycwell.cityofnewyork.us/en/get-help-now/chat-with-a-counselor-now. Interpreters are available for more than 200 languages, and there is relay service for callers who are deaf or hard of hearing. The IDG has said it is developing a mental health and wellness program, along with the New York Black Car Fund, that will launch in the coming months.
Sources: New York Post, Star Tribune, Crain’s New York Business and ABC7