It has taken more than half a decade, but relief appears to be on the way for thousands of yellow cab drivers who owe hundreds of millions of dollars on their medallions while its value has fallen nearly 80 percent since 2014.
The collapse of the medallion market led many to commit suicide as they faced financial ruin due to predator loans, lax oversight by the city and state, and unregulated app-dispatch companies such as Uber and Lyft that took away so much business from yellow cabs in recent years.
Last Friday, Congressman Gregory Meeks unveiled legislation that would help provide some financial relief for taxi medallion owners by not considering debt forgiveness they receive as income.
“Taxi drivers were sold a false promise and placed into what’s become a debt trap they couldn’t have anticipated,” Meeks said. “Some financial institutions are doing the right thing by forgiving the crippling debt, but because that relief is considered income by the federal government, medallion owners are further burdened by enormous tax bills. This legislation is an important step towards justice for taxi drivers who’ve been unfairly burdened by enormous debt.”
Meeks was joined by several Queens elected officials who were taken aback when a wave of drivers, mostly immigrants and people of color, began taking their own lives as the market collapsed — people such as 65-year-old Nicanor Ochisor, a Romanian immigrant who hung himself in the garage of his Maspeth home in 2018. Flushing resident Yu Mein Chow, 56, was found floating in the East River — his family claimed crippling debt drove him to suicide just like Bayside’s Roy Kim, 58, who hanged himself with a belt after finding himself more than $500,000 in debt.
“Taxi drivers have worked tirelessly for decades to serve New Yorkers. They have been an essential part of our city and have played by the rules. They have hit hard times through no fault of their own,” Congresswoman Grace Meng said. “These struggling drivers and medallion owners do not deserve to have their livelihoods ripped away from them. They desperately need assistance and we must step up to help stop the suffering, and ease the crisis.”
The bi-partisan legislation, known as The Tax Relief for Taxi Drivers Act would ensure that defrauded New York taxi drivers would get the debt relief that they need and not face “absurd IRS tax bills,” according to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
“After years of predatory lending and inflated medallion prices, our city’s yellow cabs became financial traps for thousands of drivers,” she said. “It’s past time we make these hardworking New Yorkers whole.”
The de Blasio administration and a 19-member City Council task force is getting closer to a $500 million bailout plan which would be largely based on private financing.
“We want to help these taxi drivers,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “They’ve been through hell, we want to find a way to help them and their families.”