NEW YORK (CBSNew York) – Taxi drivers plead for debt relief.
Many are already struggling under the cost of expensive lockets saying the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated their economic suffering.
Some of these drivers spoke to CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis.
CBS2 met Mostapha Alabsy outside his home in Jersey City, where he was greeted lovingly by his five grandchildren, including three from his native Yemen.
“I promised them a good life in America,” Alabsy said.
For 25 years, Alabsy rode in his yellow cab and pursued the American dream in New York. But for months now, the cab has been sitting in its driveway with signs saying “Not working since March 2020”.
His last shift, he only made $ 40.
“I don’t want unemployment. I want to go back to work normally as a taxi driver, taking care of my family, taking care of my loans, ”said Alabsy.
But the 68-year-old returned his plates and put his medallion in reserve. He is one of 7,000 drivers, his union said, who have done the same to save on insurance.
Alabsy must reimburse this medallion, which he bought in 2008, for $ 600,000. He still owes more than half.
He said he feared he would end up homeless or return to the hospital.
“That’s when I had open heart surgeries in 2014, because I was working so hard,” Alabsy said, showing a photo to DeAngelis. “If I don’t get a solution for my debt, the lender or the bank will take my house. These children will find themselves homeless on the streets.
The medallion is a municipal license required to drive a taxi, a system introduced in the 1930s.
It was once valued at over $ 1 million, but has since fallen, in part due to the rise of ridesharing like Uber and Lyft. The struggles were then perpetuated by the pandemic. The Taxi and Limousine Commission reported that ridership fell 92% in June.
Alabsy was among the immigrant drivers who testified at a city council committee hearing. Meanwhile, others gathered outside Gracie Mansion and brought a day of action to the Brooklyn Bridge, shutting it down.
Drivers are asking for debt relief for medallion loans.
“Divers have a financial debt. The city has a moral debt. They have to solve this problem, ”said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
Desai said the alliance’s proposal calls on lenders to reduce outstanding medallion loans to $ 125,000 and refinance payments, with the city acting as a safety net.
“The city should go back and think about our dignity,” said taxi driver Dorothy Leconte.
Leconte and Alabsy are heartbroken by nine drivers who commit suicide. They said they didn’t know how much longer the indebted drivers could take.
“We want them to stop these suicides to help us cancel our debts so that we can manage our lives,” Alabsy said.
The group is also calling on Congress for help, rallying outside the Senate Majority Leader Chuck schumer‘s Brooklyn home to get federal driver relief.
Schumer released a statement on Thursday saying he was standing by the taxi workers and working hard to provide financial assistance to the city.
“There are few frontline workers who work longer hours or suffer more serious financial problems than our taxi drivers. I join the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in its urgent mission to create a financial lifeline for their hard-pressed members to restructure Medallion debt, save their future retirement and have a fair chance at earning a salary decent for all their many hours behind the wheel, ”said Schumer. “I’m fighting like hell right now to provide robust local aid to New York City, send another round of direct payments to low- and middle-income New Yorkers, expand pandemic unemployment assistance that has helped to keep so many taxi drivers afloat, secure additional rent and mortgage relief, and more. We can – and should – honor the work of our taxi drivers by finding a way to deliver these drivers in their entirety. “
Mayor Bill de Blasio said federal support will open the door to help drivers.