After years of protests, hunger strikes and appeals to the city government, 3,000 debt-ridden New York taxi drivers are about to get a fresh start.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be forgiven from loans taken out by drivers, 40% of whom are South Asian immigrants, who bought a taxi medallion before its value was inflated. Mayor Eric Adams and David Do, commissioner of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, announced a finalized relief plan on Tuesday.
“Our cab medallion owners and drivers have always moved New York City, and it’s finally time to pay with real debt relief for owners in need,” Adams said in a press release. “We’re probably putting tens of thousands of dollars back in the pockets of these owner-operators.”
New York’s medallion program was once meant to be a way for drivers to buy, operate and profit from their own taxis. But the boom in popularity of ride-sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, has dramatically reduced taxi industry profits in recent years. Loans began to swell due to predatory lending practices and medallion price hikes by industry leaders.
This meant crushing the owners’ debt. Program drivers owe more than $500,000 on average.
“I lost everything,” driver Mohamadou Aliyu told NBC Asian America last year. He originally bought his locket for $100,000 as what he thought was a ticket out of poverty. He now owes $630,000 to lenders.
A series of debt-ridden drivers died by suicide in 2018. Aliyu lost nine colleagues and said he even considered taking his own life as well. “God knows how many times I thought about killing myself,” he said.
Adams’ relief plan will reduce the amount of debt per driver to a maximum principal balance of $200,000 with lower monthly payments, according to the statement. Drivers with medallions can begin the process of restructuring their loans immediately, now with a city-backed guarantee to fall back on.
The plan was put forward by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, an organization that escalated protests outside City Hall last year. On the 15th day of the alliance’s hunger strike in November, then-mayor Bill de Blasio relented and reached an agreement.
“We are finally at the starting line of a new life for thousands of drivers and our families,” Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the alliance, said in the statement. “I commend all of our union members who chose to organize, and not despair, and get their lives back.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME at 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.