By Mark Hallum
Although the cause of death was still undetermined by the city medical examiner’s office for a Flushing man, missing since May 11 and found floating in the East River on May 23, his family claims the cab driver committed suicide as a result of crippling debt and ride share competition.
Yu Mein Chow, 56, was reported missing to the Police Department after last seen at his home on Francis Lewis Boulevard at around 7 a.m. nearly two weeks before he was found in the water near the Brooklyn Bridge, NYPD said.
But Chow, who went by the nickname Kenny, is believed by his family to have killed himself as a result of substantial debt, about $700,000 from a loan he took out for a medallion cab about seven years ago.
Medallions, issued by the city, are valued at about $200,000 now since the advent of ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft. At their peak value in 2014, taxi medallions were worth $1.3 million.
If true, Chow would be the fifth New York City cab driver to have ended his life in the past five months, although the exact cause of death has not been confirmed by authorities.
Family members at a vigil Sunday at Carl Schurz Park near 86th Street on the Upper East Side, near where Chow’s cab was found abandoned, remembered him as a hardworking family man.
“It’s really hard to muster the words to describe the equal level of sorrow and rage that we feel,” Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said, pointing out how Chow’s cab was left near Gracie Mansion and how Doug Schifter, another cabbie, shot himself outside City Hall to illuminate the struggles of taxi drivers in the gig economy.
“These are not individual tragedies, there is a trend here,” Desai continued. “It’s disturbing and it’s urgent and it requires urgent action from the City Council and by the mayor. All that we’re asking for is a limit on the number of vehicles that are crowding the streets that have made it difficult for any driver to survive.”
A family member at Chow’s home in Flushing declined to comment.
“He was very hardworking, he loved his family,” Chow’s brother said through tears at the vigil.
Missing signs were posted near where Chow’s cab was found at the time of his disappearance, but they are now joined by a shrine and posters saying “Rest in Peace.”
“The mayor, even the governor and the Council have said they recognize something has to be done,” Desai said. “Well, then why hasn’t it been done yet? They introduced regulation that really do not go very far. At this point it’s just lip service.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall