NEW YORK, N.Y.—New York City cab drivers’ financial crisis has now claimed two more lives than Son of Sam did.
Yellow-cab owner-driver Roy Kim, 58, of Bayside, Queens, committed suicide Nov. 5, the city Taxi and Limousine Commission announced Nov. 14. He owed more than $500,000 on the medallion he bought last year, a fellow driver told the New York Post.
Kim was the eighth driver to kill himself under crushing financial burdens in the last year. Two of the others, Nicanor Ochisor and Yu Mein Kenny Chow, were also heavily indebted medallion owners. Chow drowned himself after the check for his last medallion mortgage payment bounced, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
“Change can’t come fast enough when every day is a struggle for drivers,” NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said in a statement.
“We are deeply saddened to learn yet another New York City professional driver has taken his own life amid reports of deep debt,” the Independent Drivers Guild said in a statement. “Years of subminimum-wage pay, mounting bills, exploitative bosses, and punishing shifts have taken a great toll on our city’s for-hire drivers.”
The IDG, an association of drivers for app-based taxi services, said it is developing a mental-health and wellness program that will “launch in the coming months” with the support of the Black Car Fund, a workers-compensation fund for drivers funded by a surcharge on black-car and limousine fares.
Drivers need a buffer to stop sinking. And that means financial relief. — NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai
Ironically, the announcement of Kim’s suicide came the day the City Council passed Intro 304, which will establish a city task force to find ways to keep medallion owners from sinking further underwater. The vote was 49-0.
Medallions’ values have plummeted from as much as $1.3 million in 2014 to between $100,000 and $425,000, according to Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), the bill’s sponsor. Meanwhile, drivers’ incomes have dropped under competition from the tens of thousands of app-based cabs now cruising the streets. The number of yellow-cab trips per day last April was 15.8% lower than it was in April 2016, and more than one-third less than in April 2010.
“We lost yet another taxi driver due to suicide last week,” Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, said in a statement. “More than ever, we must stand by the men and women who own and operate medallions, and not watch the taxi industry become destroyed.”
The bill would create a nine-member task force, including TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi and one owner-driver, to study past and projected future sales prices of taxi medallions. It would have six months to recommend changes to laws, rules, regulations, and policies that it believes would help solve the problem.
According to NYTWA, owner-drivers’ expenses, including car payments, insurance, and maintenance, average $5,500 to $9,000 a month, so they need to gross at least $1,300 a week just to break even. To actually earn a living wage, it says, they’d have to average $344 for a 12-hour shift after gas, taxes, and tolls.
Meanwhile, it adds, “there has not been consistent or industry-wide cooperation among lenders to lower interest rates or extend loan periods to alleviate some of the monthly burdens.”
“Owner-drivers have suffered a deep and vicious slide from the middle class into crushing poverty, in just a few short years,” Desai said. “This crisis can be fixed. Now, banks and lenders need to work with the city and philanthropy to write off 20 percent of outstanding debts, lower interest rates, and restructure contracts so that no owner-driver has to lose more than 20 percent of their monthly income to the mortgage. Drivers need a buffer to stop sinking. And that means financial relief.”