Taxi Drivers Demand Solutions to End Driver Suicides

Taxi drivers demand better conditions after the recent wave of suicides. (Photo via El Diario)

A group of taxi drivers held a demonstration on Monday to ask Mayor Bill de Blasio to impose stricter restrictions on ride-hail car services and improve working conditions for drivers, particularly those in yellow cabs.

The request comes after a sixth taxi driver killed himself on Friday, the latest in a wave of suicides that the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) attributes to the extreme financial crisis drivers face as a result of the increased number of ride-share vehicles in the streets from companies such as Lyft and Uber.

The deceased driver was identified as Abdul Saleh, a Yemeni immigrant. He was found dead last week in his rented bedroom in Brooklyn. NYTWA representatives said that Saleh had been having trouble paying his part of the medallion he shared with another driver.

NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai used strong words to criticize Wall Street, saying that suicide cannot be the only way to ask the city’s government for mercy.

“We will not allow the status quo of callousness toward struggling drivers to continue for one more day,” said Desai. “We will not sit idly by as Wall Street behemoths […] try to derail regulation or limit it to just one sector of drivers when every driver in every sector […] is sinking deeper into profound desperation.”

Drivers asked City Hall to immediately limit the number of vehicles using apps and create a base salary for drivers in all sectors by establishing the regulated meter rate of green and yellow taxis as the industry minimum. In addition, the guild asked that labor rules are established for app drivers – such as those working with Lyft and Uber – and that immediate relief is offered for yellow cab drivers struggling with their expenses.

To follow up on this issue, the Committee for Taxi Safety (CFTS) launched an “inaction clock” to document the time that will have passed since the first tragic death until the City Council takes legislative action to tackle the crisis and regulate Uber.

“Frankly, it is shameful that 180 days have passed since the loss of Danilo Corporán-Castillo and no measures have been taken by the City Council to deal with this crisis and regulate Uber’s growth,” said David Beier, president of CFTS. “The Council knows that establishing reasonable limits to the numbers of for-hire vehicles in New York City is the only way to solve the root cause of the problems facing yellow cab drivers and owners.”

City Hall spokesman Seth Stein said that taxi and for-hire vehicle drivers are under enormous pressure. “Along with the Council and the TLC [Taxi and Limousine Commission] we are currently evaluating how to help drivers make it to the end of the month in this difficult environment,” he added. “TLC has carried out numerous critical regulation changes to support drivers and owners of taxis and for-hire cars, and there are additional changes on the way. We will have more participation in this very soon.”

Two Hispanic drivers, Danilo Corporán-Castillo and Alfredo Pérez, both of whom worked in the Bronx, are on the list of recent suicides.

Aside from Saleh, the others are Yu Mein “Kenny” Chow, Nicanor Ochisor and Douglas Schifter. Schifter fired a shotgun at himself outside of City Hall on Feb. 5 after writing a Facebook post that read: “I don’t know how else to try to make a difference other than a public display of a most private affair.”

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who has repeatedly demanded the resignation of current TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi, lifted a sign with the names of the deceased taxi drivers, asking that their deaths not be in vain.

“This is a major crisis where six men have taken their lives and everybody walks around like they never existed,” said Espaillat. “I demand the resignation of the commissioner because she has been unable to solve this problem.”

The Congressional representative sent a message of support to the guild, reminding them that he is on their side. “You are not anonymous, and this city supports you. You are the engine of New York,” he said.

City Hall had not responded to a request for comment at press time.

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