‘No more debt beyond our lifetime’ NYC taxi drivers score crucial medallion bailout victory

‘No more debt beyond our lifetime’ NYC taxi drivers score crucial medallion bailout victory

After weeks of striking and 15 days without food, New York City’s taxi drivers were served a crucial victory as Mayor Bill de Blasio finally agreed to a debt restructuring plan building off an initial program that already eliminated $21.4 million of debt for individual drivers who took out loans to secure their medallions. Two dozen drivers have already had their debt fully forgiven and more than 1,100 have been interviewed to participate in the improved Taxi Medallion Relief Program.

An individual taxi driver in New York City is defined as an owner-driver who has five or fewer medallions. Those drivers owed an average of half a million dollars for their medallions and faced staggering monthly payments that have now been capped at $1,122. The city’s largest lender for medallions, Marblegate, has agreed to “restructure outstanding loans to a principal balance of $200,000, which will be constituted as a $170,000 guaranteed loan, plus a City grant of $30,000,” per a press release. “The terms of the new loan will include a 5% interest rate and a 20-year, fully amortizing term.”

Marblegate became the largest lender because it bought thousands of loans from numerous companies that were shut down by the federal government following the 2014 medallion collapse that saw individual medallion prices skyrocket to more than $1 million. Jacobin has an excellent write-up on the damage wrought by banks, hedge funds, and the city of New York itself that directly led to the medallion bubble’s boom and bust.

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) has been fighting for the livelihoods and well-being of its members for years in hopes of attaining some relief in what has become a life-or-death situation for many drivers faced with insurmountable debt. Their victory Wednesday was an emotional one for those still standing. On-the-ground coverage from The City shows drivers dancing, embracing, and crying as they chanted “no more suicides.” At least eight drivers tragically took their own lives while facing debt and dwindling wages following the rise of ride-share companies like Lyft and Uber between 2017 and 2018.

BREAKING NEWS: 2 words: WE WON!!!! +3: THANK YOU NYC!!!! We have won a city-backed guarantee! Loans will be restructured to max $170K! No more debt beyond our lifetime. No more risk of losing homes. DRIVER POWER! UNION POWER! #EndCabbieDebt

— NY Taxi Workers (@NYTWA) November 3, 2021

Richard Chow, whose brother was one of those eight drivers, is a cabbie himself and has played an active role in the strikes that led to the debt restructuring agreement. He told The City he was proud to make history with his fellow drivers. Augustine Tang, who inherited his father’s medallion and the debt attached to it, continued to drive to honor his legacy and said the moment would’ve meant the world to his dad.

“I’m sure he didn’t want me to go through what I went through throughout this journey, but us winning has to be something,” Tang told The City. The NYTWA’s actions have inspired family members of drivers to run for office and put the pressure on lawmakers to do the right thing.

.@ZohranKMamdani also ran for office on a platform of drivers’ rights. Uber and Lyft ran ads attacking him as an “extremist.” Once elected, he put his body on the line protesting with @NYTWA, getting arrested, and hunger striking for 15 days outside City Hall. Thank you 🌹 https://t.co/1noeAu9We1

— NYC-DSA 🌹 (@nycDSA) November 3, 2021

NYTWA has had the support of the likes of Chuck Schumer, city council members, and even Letitia James, the New York state attorney general, who at one point almost sued the city of New York for its actions against medallion holders. Last month, 50 elected officials signed a letter calling on de Blasio to act. Now that he has, they and NYTWA members and supporters are rightfully celebrating.

Good morning. Never settle for crumbs. We baked the pie. That’s it. Back to the dancing.

— NY Taxi Workers (@NYTWA) November 5, 2021

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