NEW YORK — Dozens of yellow taxi drivers organized a cab caravan here Sept. 17, protesting through the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. They blocked traffic briefly on the Brooklyn and Queensboro bridges, and rallied outside City Hall, carrying signs saying, “Debt forgiveness NOW! Let drivers LIVE.” The protest was called by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
In years past, drivers borrowed heavily to purchase medallions, city licenses to drive as owner-operators. Yellow taxis had a government-enforced monopoly in the Manhattan market until almost a decade ago, and the price of medallions soared as they were promoted by the city as an investment that would help finance home mortgages, retirement plans and college education for children.
But the medallion market has since collapsed. Competition from much larger Uber and Lyft operations sent medallion values plummeting. Taxi business ground to a halt with the onset of COVID-19. Government-imposed shutdowns of production and commerce resulted in the disappearance of millions of office workers and tourists. Yellow Cab drivers had 92% fewer riders in June than they did the year before.
Mohammed Mahbub of Queens, a driver for 25 years, purchased a medallion 20 years ago and today owes $650,000 on the loan he took out. “We’re in a terrible place,” he told the Militant. “The governor, the mayor, federal officials turn their backs on us. Everyone ignores us.” Mahbub called on working people to support the taxi drivers.