Taxi drivers

Convoy of taxi drivers from New York to Minnesota to protest Edina investor siege

More than a dozen New York cab drivers have traveled 1,200 miles to Minnesota to speak with an Edina-based investment firm they say is refusing loan debt relief for medallions expensive, the license to operate a taxi in the big city.

“Our trip has been so worth it so far,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance union. “We are very optimistic at this point.”

Becoming a taxi driver in New York usually means borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for a medallion to be a licensed taxi driver. With their business crushed by ride-sharing apps in recent years, that crushing debt led to cab driver suicides and a two-week hunger strike that culminated in the company’s $65 million medallion relief program. city. Now the fight has made its way to Minnesota, right at the intersection of 50th and France.

The syndicate had said O’Brien-Staley Partners, headquartered in Edina, would not participate in a new supplemental program to reduce monthly payments and medallion loan debt. Desai said the union is in talks with O’Brien-Staley and the trip has been enlightening because “we realize there’s a mutual interest in working things out.”

“It’s the first time we’ve had serious discussions with them in the past two years,” she said. “We want a comprehensive solution that will relieve all drivers of this crippling debt.”

The group of 18 taxi drivers had planned to camp in their taxis overnight outside O’Brien-Staley until Tuesday evening for a 24-hour picket. But en route to Edina, Desai said the two sides had found “common goals to help rebuild the lives of taxi drivers and stabilize our iconic industry”. They made the decision as a group to stop and negotiate an hour outside of Edina and not follow up on the picket in order to continue negotiations.

The union is asking O’Brien-Staley to stop seizing the drivers’ medallions and belongings. He is also calling on the investor to join the additional aid package, which includes $30,000 grants, as other lenders have agreed to restructure thousands of loans. The union said the average Medallion debt of $550,000 will increase to $170,000 under the New York City program, and monthly Medallion payments will also decrease.

Desai said lenders used predatory tactics and loans for medallions were exploitative and often targeted immigrant drivers who could not afford the inflated price of medallions that soared and then crashed when the city of New York allowed Uber and Lyft into the market without regulation.

The union says O’Brien-Staley sold medallions for undisclosed amounts and sued taxi drivers for initial balances of up to $400,000. He alleges the company hired a “repo man” to shake off taxi drivers and seize vehicle medallions, speedometers and plates.

“These claims are truly untrue,” O’Brien-Staley CEO E. Gerald O’Brien II said in a statement to the Star Tribune.

O’Brien said he hadn’t seen the written details of the supplemental program and “it’s hard for a company to pre-commit to something that doesn’t yet exist.”

O’Brien said his company has been an active participant in the relief program since its inception on Sept. 25, and once the additional relief program is fully adopted, “it will be a welcome addition to the process of adjusting repairers’ hardship.” PSO”.

Of the roughly 13,600 taxi medallions in New York, O’Brien said the company has a 2% market share, which includes loans for 323 taxi medallions.

“We think it’s important that the ultimate plan accepts weekly direct debit payments [not just monthly] and that it prioritizes borrowers who currently drive their taxis and make minimal payments on their loans over others who don’t drive or who simply speculate on rising medallion values,” O’Brien wrote in his statement. “Maybe the project is already includes these elements, we do not know, we have not seen anything written.”

Medallion assistance has so far helped 263 medallion owners, with the city disbursing about $5.3 million in grants and reducing nearly $37 million in debt.