De Blasio’s $ 65million Medallion Taxi Debt Relief Plan Attracts Sneers From Industry and New York Pols
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The city is pledging $ 65 million for a relief fund for owner-drivers of taxi medallions to ensure that the already ravaged industry does not fall further into disrepair, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Tuesday.
The plan to provide relief for indebted drivers, however, has drawn criticism from city lawmakers and industry officials who say it does not go far enough.
De Blasio said that as of last weekend, with the passage of the $ 1.9 trillion stimulus bill, the city now has money to spend on taxi drivers. The city will initially provide up to $ 20,000 in loans to restructure Medallion’s debt and up to an additional $ 9,000 to support debt repayment. He said they had spoken with various lenders and should be involved.
Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) commissioner and chairperson Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk said restructuring these loans would be a lifeline to lower interest rates or drivers’ principles.
“This plan will provide real relief to locket owners and has the power to transform the lives of many of our most hard-working essential workers,” Jarmoszuk said. “Many locket owners are in trouble and have asked the city for help. I talk to them every day. I heard the pain in their voices. Whether they had to choose between paying off their debts or providing their families with a roof over their heads and food on the table. ”
It comes after january demonstrations in front of de Blasio’s house at Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side which has seen dozens of taxi drivers calling for more help and medallion debt relief. They complained that de Blasio had “dragged his feet once too often” and failed to keep his promises to help them.
“Even before the pandemic, we know taxi drivers were in a crisis because of what happened with the value of the medallions. It’s a very sad story, and it’s a story with a lot of unfairness because the lenders took advantage of these factors. When I took office and we realized the extent of the problem, we canceled the medallion sales. We wouldn’t do them anymore, ”de Blasio admitted.
New York’s classic yellow cab driver, once a gateway to opportunity for many immigrant communities, had been plagued before COVID with crushing debt resulting from predatory lending practices and surveillance regulations from the city in the early 2000s.
The city has essentially sold overpriced lockets, which are transferable permits in the United States that allow a taxi driver to operate. After decades of inflation, drivers couldn’t afford them without opportunistic lenders to back them up.
The influx of ridesharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, which were unregulated at the time, and which drastically reduced driver profits, further exacerbated the problem. The New York Times ran a detailed article explaining how the ecosystem of yellow cab drivers and medallion holders stretched to chicago same, and was so heavily victimized that many chose to commit suicide rather than suffer from growing debt.
In 2020, the 13,000 or so medallion holders who remained were finding it even harder to stay afloat as the COVID-19 crisis began. The city has pivoted to use yellow taxis for food delivery and other transportation services during the lockdown.
“The taxi drivers stepped in and helped us, helped our community. Taxi drivers were in the lead in providing food to the elderly who needed it, helping to keep people on the move, ”de Blasio said.
Almost immediately after the Mayor’s Medallion relief plan was announced, it received some backlash.
“Mayor de Blasio’s response to our debt crisis does absolutely nothing for drivers. This is a cash bailout for lenders while drivers are plunged into debt, foreclosure and bankruptcy, ”said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA). in a tweet.
Desai said that the alliance had put forward their own proposal it was driver-centric and not a “gift to the lenders”. The NYTWA proposal was drafted in legislation in January 2020, sponsored by Congressman Gregory Meeks and many more.
City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer also called the mayor’s plan “disgrace” in a statement released today.
“There is no excuse not to approach the crisis with a real solution. We have the means – we just need the will to act in a meaningful way, ”Stringer said. “It is in our power to solve this problem. We don’t have to raise our hands and look away from hopelessness and despair. We must take our responsibility – and the present moment – and immediately implement the New York Taxi Workers Alliance proposal. “
De Blasio has said he respects NYTWA, but it’s really easy to call for things that “won’t work” or that aren’t “sustainable” in response.
Manhattan City Councilor Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the Council’s Transportation Committee, suggested that the $ 65 million investment was just a down payment, and that a “real plan” was needed to get them out. taxi drivers in crushing debt.
“These drivers have been severely impacted financially by COVID-19, any recovery plan proposed by the city must include our taxi drivers,” Rodriguez said. “We need to take inspiration from the Taxi Workers Alliance plan and the recommendations of the Taxi Medallion task force and make sure we do a lot more to help our struggling medal taxi owners.”
With the report by Robert Pozarycki