Talking with Taxi Drivers

A recent rally at City Hall in support of medallion owners. (Photo via Queens Press)

Jon Cronin in Queens Press takes an in-depth look this week at the continuing pressure on medallion cab  owners, many of whom are immigrants struggling to stay solvent. The burgeoning business done by Uber and Lyft drivers in the city has cut into their revenues, and many shouldered huge debts to purchase medallions which once cost about $1 million and now are valued at less than $200,000 apiece. In recent months, six cabbies have taken their own lives, including Yu Mein “Kenny” Chow, whose widow has stage-four cancer.

John, 49, a cab driver and Queens resident who didn’t want to give his last name, is a close friend of Chow’s brother, Richard, who is also a yellow cab driver. John said that Chow had $580,000 left on his medallion mortgage and had to clear $5,000 a month just to cover its cost.

“[We’re] not even talking about house payments,” John said. “You have to make $10,000 a month just to survive. It put tremendous pressure on him. In this industry, any yellow cab driver is like a brother to me. We will be making less and less money. There are people dying left and right. Where is the industry heading? I thought I owned a piece of New York City. Now my dreams are being taken away. Things are not looking good for us.”

Another friend of Chow’s also weighed in:

A 25-year veteran yellow-cab driver, Wain Chin, a native of Burma, is contending with these high costs. He was also a friend of Chow.

“We would see each other almost every day in the airports or at lunch,” Chin said. “I knew him for six or seven years. It was very sad to see him go that way. He looked stressed. His wife had cancer. There are too many bills to pay, with the mortgage and rent. Before, you would work nine or 10 hours, and then go home. Now, it’s over 13 hours. I was hoping that, one day, the worth [of the medallion] would come up. Right now it doesn’t look good. A lot of owners file for bankruptcy. It’s not worth it.”

Go to Queens Press to read more driver comments, and to learn what Bhairavi Desai, a founding member of the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance (NYTWA), has to say about efforts to address the problem. Learn too what Desai had to say about an unusual auction in June of more than 100 medallions seized by lenders.

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