New York taxi drivers on hunger strike over debts

Taxi drivers protest before the New York City Hall. / EFE

Asphyxiated by the crisis, they demand to restructure the loans requested to pay their licenses, which in some cases exceed $ 700,000

In the city of skyscrapers, if something represents its essence since the beginning of the 20th century, it is its well-known yellow taxis. Turned into an attraction for tourists and immortalized on countless occasions by Hollywood cinema, these New York gems have gone from being a dream to a nightmare for those who sit behind the wheel. The economic crisis caused by the pandemic has accentuated a drama that in the last four years has dragged nine of these drivers to suicide due to fierce and unfair competition from Uber, Lyft and other platforms, but above all because of the prohibitive prices of licenses. , which can be around a million dollars.

The debts contracted to obtain the permit, in some cases of more than 700,000 dollars, have put taxi drivers on a war footing since the ‘puncture’ of tourism today makes it impossible to comply with the payment of such high sums. Since last October 20, they have been starring in a hunger strike at the gates of the city hall to demand that the mayor, Bill de Blasio, act as guarantor and restructure the conditions of these loans. They ask that the principal amount does not exceed $ 145,000 and the payments are around 800 per month.

“I have high blood pressure and diabetes and, if I don’t eat regularly, I will probably collapse, but I take the risk. Nine drivers have died, “Quadratullah Saberry, an Afghan who has been a taxi driver for three decades in New York, still owes $ 300,000 in his 70s. His partner, Víctor Salazar, an Ecuadorian who owes the same amount, could not continue to pay his “medallion” – as licenses are known by their shape – because of the coronavirus.

The pandemic was the finishing touch for many who, like Salazar, already had to compete on the streets with platforms like Uber that reduced their profits and made yellow taxi permits cease to be an exclusive object of desire. The accounts simply did not add up. Every month he had to pay $ 2,000, not counting gas and car insurance.

Victims of a bubble

The media congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio Cortez and the Democratic leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, among other politicians, have sent a letter to De Blasio to support the taxi drivers. The city has proposed a total aid of $ 65 million. However, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents 25,000 workers, considers this amount insufficient.

“New York has created this crisis”, denounced in a recent protest the ombudsman, Jumanne Wiliams, alluding to the fact that the previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg, called several auctions to increase the number of “medallions” that only managed to create a bubble as the price of licenses inflated.