NEW YORK (PIX11) — Dozens of yellow cab drivers launched a hunger strike Wednesday that they say is needed so they get help with their dire financial situations. They said that they hope they don’t have to starve for long.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is relying on a city initiative that provides $65 million in financial assistance for the thousands of cab drivers. Many of those drivers say it’s not enough to get them out of debt any time soon, if ever.
That’s why they’ve been demonstrating around the clock about 100 yards outside of the mayor’s office, at City Hall, for more than a month. Wednesday was the first time they incorporated a hunger strike. Strikers plan to go without food in shifts, some for days and others for weeks.
Some of the hunger strikers acknowledged that a hunger strike will be difficult. “I worry about my health,” said Richard Chow, a yellow cab driver who’s participating in the hunger strike. “I have diabetes. I have high blood pressure. And we have no choice.”
He’s among thousands of drivers who borrowed money from lenders to buy a taxi medallion, a notoriously pricy city-issued permit to operate a commercial taxi. The value of each medallion plummeted, however, after the city allowed digital rideshare businesses to operate medallion-free.
In Chow’s case, he borrowed $410,000 to pay for his medallion. “I still owe $389,000,” he said.
Mayor de Blasio said on Wednesday that he feels for the situation that the drivers are in, and that the city is giving them financial assistance. “We’ve tried to help them in a variety of ways,” the mayor said during his daily news conference, “including creating a relief program to reduce debt, to make it more manageable, with a major city investment.”
The city’s plan, which is already in place, provides $200,000 or more in debt relief to any driver who gets approved. Each driver then has to pay about $1,500 to $1,600 per month to pay down the debt. The program costs $65 million.
By contrast, the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance, the union representing yellow cab drivers, came up with its own plan. If adopted by the city, it would give each driver a city-backed loan of $145,000, repaid at a rate of up to $800 per month. They say their plan would cost $93 million, tops.
That plan was endorsed by Sen. Charles Schumer. And City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose job is analyzing city expenses, has said that the drivers’ proposal is financially sound. For their part, some hunger strikers have said that they will starve as long as it takes to get their plan accepted by the city.