The industry of “medallion-free taxi drivers,” driven mostly by Latinos and operating mainly in New York’s suburbs, faces a crisis after thousands of drivers lost their licenses to what they claim to be the city’s “predatory practices”.
Dozens of taxi drivers arrived this Monday at the City Hall to demand that they be allowed to renew their permits to work in and that a committee integrated by the local government and the taxi industry be created to look for solutions to the problems.
“This is one of the most important sectors of the economy,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, president of the Transportation Committee during a press conference in which he was surrounded by a group of taxi drivers, prior to an audience convened by the city council to hear the concerns of taxi drivers and the city in an attempt to reach an agreement.
Rodriguez said that “there is a crisis in this industry” and recalled that it is these workers who provide services in low-income communities, where the famous yellow cabs of New York do not want to arrive.
Leaders of this industry recalled that in 2014 there were more than 24,000 taxi drivers “without medallion” working in the neighborhoods of the five counties – an industry dominated by Dominicans – and that at the moment the figure is about 9,600, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) that regulates its operations.
According to taxi drivers, the reduction is due to “predatory practices” of the city as the decision not to grant more permits for that work during the period from August 2018 to August 2019 to address the problem of traffic congestion in Manhattan, with the exception of wheelchair accessible vehicles.
At the end of the year, Mayor Bill of Blasio signed an extension until August 2020.
The problem, according to the taxi drivers, is that thousands of drivers who lost their permits because they had fine debts, in some cases, or have not been able to pay their insurance other times, have not been allowed to renew it even though they have paid, so they cannot use their cars to work.
Some have had to rent taxis to work and then have to pay for the use of that car and other expenses.
Taxi drivers are asking the city to grant a new “restricted vehicle license” only for drivers who work for a company, in order to deal with the licensing crisis as the city reinstalls permits.
For their part, the owners of the bases for which they work reported that they have not been able to hire more taxi drivers, which in turn has prevented them from meeting their customers when they have required their services.
“The city and the state insist on setting rules and making decisions without measuring the unintended consequences” that has impacted small businesses and taxi drivers, who are losing their licenses, said activist Cira Ángeles, spokeswoman for the Association of Base Owners.
“This policy needs to be revised. If you want to control Uber and high-volume bases we shouldn’t overlook the fact that only 75% of NAFTA permits are renewed each year,” she said.
He added that the rest is not renewing them “because he does not have money, he is sick, something happened to him and he was made impossible but there is no mechanism in the law to reintegrate as a taxi driver because he does not know how to do anything else and he is not going to rent (as a driver)”.
Taxi drivers claimed that this group is not responsible for “traffic congestion” in lower Manhattan, an area where they are not allowed to work.
The press conference was interrupted by another group of taxi drivers who blamed Councilman Rodriguez for having supported some measures, as chairman of the Transport Commission, that affect this industry.
“We don’t want more taxi drivers to commit suicide,” said Hector German, recalling that several drivers have taken their own lives because of economic problems and warn that they hope to reach an agreement with the city council or decree a strike.
Several base owners told Efe that they have lost 200 to 300 drivers in the last year, which has resulted in economic losses.