After a monthslong protest and two-week hunger strike, New York City taxi drivers won major concessions from a City Hall that had conspired with banks to mire them in crushing debt. The agreement represents a huge victory for working people over powerful industry leaders.
The deal will provide a city-backed guarantee for the massive outstanding loans hanging over the heads of thousands of city drivers who in many cases borrowed against their life savings to buy overpriced taxi medallions. It will also restructure those loans so that they max out at $170,000 — a lifeline for the many drivers who have been struggling for years to pay off what is in some cases more than $500,000 in debt. The plan will establish a standard 5% interest rate on loans, with payments of $1,100 per month. It is a massive improvement on the relief program NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio offered in March, which provided only $29,000 in grants per driver.
As More Perfect Union reported last month, NYC taxi drivers organized with the New York Taxi Workers’ Union (NYTWA) began a hunger strike on October 19 after a long-term sit-in at City Hall failed to provide relief from the damage that the medallion system has wreaked upon their lives.
The taxi drivers — the vast majority of whom are immigrants — described how the city marketed yellow cab medallions, or licenses to drive a cab in the city, as a golden ticket to the middle class. Seeking to shore up a hole in the budget, the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg worked to inflate the price of the medallions at auctions, and on secondary markets, the medallions fetched nearly $1 million at their peak. The loans used to finance the purchase of the medallions often came with predatory agreements that immigrant drivers did not understand. As the bubble burst, in part due to the unregulated flood of Uber, Lyft, and other ride-sharing vehicles entering the city, thousands of drivers found themselves under water. Many have lost their homes and retirement savings, and nine drivers have taken their own lives.
The striking taxi drivers received support from a number of elected officials during their City Hall protest, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and State Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani. Mamdani and State Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou were amongst the lawmakers to participate in the hunger strike and celebrate their victory.