(New York, NY) On Thursday, July 26, Politico and The New York Times reported that the City Council was moving forward with a bill to cap For-Hire-Vehicles, including cars dispatched by Uber and Lyft, for the first time in the country. Through our unity campaign of yellow cab, green cab, livery, black car, and app-dispatched drivers, NYTWA members have been fighting for this cap for more than three years, holding rallies and marches and spreading the word about the financial crisis that has lead six professional drivers to suicide. Our movement also pushed the City Council to introduce legislation to stop predatory lending in the for-hire sector and authorize a health fund - something NYTWA members won several years ago but which got held up in court by the bosses. Earlier this month, NYTWA won a historic victory for our Uber driver members - the NYS Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board rejected Uber's 11th hour attempt to withdraw their appeal and ruled that three of our Uber driver members and all those similarly situated are employees with rights to unemployment benefits.
NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai released the following statement on the City Council bills:
"Driver organizing pushed City Council to introduce a bill to cap for-hire-vehicles. At the same time, our movement pushed the Council to introduce bills to authorize a health and wellness fund for drivers in all sectors and cap leasing expenses in the for-hire industry for the first time to prevent predatory lending, protections similar to what NYTWA previously won for drivers in the yellow cab sector.
"Thousands of NYTWA members have marched and rallied and our activism created the momentum to regulate app-dispatch companies for the first time. The For-Hire-Vehicle cap is an important step to stop the crisis of poverty that pushed six New York City professional drivers to suicide. We need to keep up the momentum as Uber spends its Wall Street millions on an ad campaign of disinformation to try to stop the cap.
"Uber, Lyft and other Wall-Street-financed app companies already have over 80,000 affiliated vehicles, compared to 13,500 yellow cabs and 4,000 green cabs. And there are another 30,000 black cars not currently affiliated with any app company that they can still dispatch. While Uber is trying to stop the cap, Uber's own drivers are spending 42 percent of their time on the app roaming empty in search of fares because Uber has oversaturated our roads with too many vehicles.
"Uber has been allowed to operate unfettered for over five years and the result is a crushing race to the bottom and economic despair among a workforce of over 100,000 drivers. The proposed cap is a necessary pause button after six drivers have committed suicide as a result of that despair, and as broader issues of congestion and loss in MTA revenue and ridership caused by Uber, Lyft and cohorts grip the city.
"The pause button is a start, but we can't stop with the cap. The 50,000 professional drivers in NYC that are not dispatched through an app can't be left behind as the City Council looks to address the economic crisis. The six drivers who took their lives because of financial despair were all among this group of drivers that includes yellow cab lease drivers, yellow cab owner-drivers, green cab drivers, livery drivers, and traditional black car drivers. The only driver income protection measure so far introduced by the Council ignores these 50,000 drivers while locking in App drivers at a minimum wage where the wage floor effectively becomes a ceiling limiting driver earnings.
App-dispatch rides need to be regulated at the yellow and green cab regulated rate of fare, so all drivers can get a raise and no company can drop out the bottom on fares as an anti-competitive tactic.
"We support the cap and we will continue to fight for solutions that help ALL drivers recover from this crushing crisis."
Background on recent driver suicides and the financial crisis hurting drivers in every sector:
Six NYC professional drivers have committed suicide in recent months due to financial despair caused by Uber's business model of greed and monopolization. The drivers who killed themselves included two Bronx livery drivers, one black car driver, two yellow cab owner-drivers and one yellow cab lease drivers. This crisis is hurting drivers in every sector.
While drivers are fighting to survive, UBER is running seven-figure ad campaign full of misinformation targeting outer-borough residents. The last time NYC proposed capping for-hire-vehicles in 2015, Uber spent millions on ads and lobbying against the cap. Now there are upwards of 80,000 app-dispatched vehicles on the road, the vast majority Uber-affiliated, with 2,000 more added every month. Uber and Lyft now have more lobbyists than Walmart, Amazon and Microsoft combined and borrow bullying tactics from the gun and tobacco lobby to stop cities from regulating.
As we we fight to stop the crisis that is pushing drivers to despair, NYTWA is also working to create more mental health resources for struggling drivers including, mobile health units, health and financial services fair at the airports, peer-to-peer mental health training program, training drivers to conduct outreach to coworkers. City Council announced that they will be introducing legislation to reestablish a health fund.
Abdul Saleh, a yellow cab lease driver, was the sixth NYC professional driver to commit suicide in recent months. In June, he was found dead in his rented Brooklyn room. He was a Yemeni immigrant who had been struggling financially for months, having difficulty covering his share of the medallion lease he shared with his driving partner. In recent weeks, he had been short on his lease payment by $30 to $40 each week, and in his last week worked he was $300 short, meaning that all of his income was going toward the lease, with nothing left over for himself.
The other recent suicides were Yu Mein Kenny Chow, a yellow cab owner-driver, who had been missing for eleven days before his body was identified after washing up under the Brooklyn Bridge (Kenny Chow's family has started a GoFundMe to help his wife, who is fighting stage 4 cancer); Nicanor Ochisor, a yellow taxi owner-driver who drove with his wife (there is also a GoFundMe to help Nicanor's wife); Danilo Corporan Castillo, a Bronx livery driver who wrote his suicide note on a Taxi and Limousine Summons; Alfredo Perez, a Bronx livery driver; and Douglas Schifter, a black car driver who shot himself in front of City Hall after posting a note on Facebook saying that the city's failure to regulate Uber had destroyed his livelihood.
Professional drivers across the industry have been financially devastated - including yellow taxi, green cab, livery, black car, and app-dispatched drivers for Uber and Lyft - because of the city's failure to regulate the app-dispatch companies creating gridlock, flooding our streets with 130,000 vehicles, and lowering labor standards. Meanwhile, yellow taxis are capped by the city at under 13,650.
Uber claims to help outer borough residents but has decimated the green cab sector, created specifically to serve the needs of outer boroughs. Green cab permits are all owned by drivers. The city planned to have 18,000 green cabs serving outer boroughs by 2016, but after reaching 6,300 in 2015, as of last year there were only 4,000 green cabs left on the road as green cab drivers gave up their permits, unable to earn a living because of the city's failure to cap app-dispatched vehicles.
Foreclosures and bankruptcies are on the rise as driver incomes continue to plummet across the industry. An Economic Policy Institute study found that Uber drivers earn on average less than $10 an hour after expenses. No driver wins this vicious race to the bottom.
Drivers call NYTWA in the middle of the night in crisis, needing referrals to homeless services and suicide prevention resources. And the devastation continues unabated.
NYTWA has been ringing the alarm on the growing economic crisis, pointing out both the race to the bottom, the growing evictions and bankruptcies and foreclosures, and the harshness for a workforce that is overworked and aging. Our proposals for yellow, green, livery, black car and App-based drivers need to be met to lift drivers out of poverty and protect full-time jobs.
You can read our complete policy platform and demands on our website NYTWA.org. Now that the City Council has introduced the CAP on for-hire-vehicles, we will continue to fight so that our other demands are met:
- CAP the number of for-hire-vehicles clogging New York City streets
- Set the yellow and green cab meter as the minimum fare rate across the industry in order to establish a wage floor, so no company can lower rates on drivers' backs.
- Establish fair labor standards across the industry- including caps on driver expenses to end predatory lending in this new market which has been unregulated for five years. Cap App company commissions so that FHV drivers get at least 80 percent of whichever is higher - the fare quoted to passenger or the metered rate.
- Program for Yellow Cab Medallion Owner-Drivers struggling with expenses as much as $6,000/month with 80% of loans under water. The city can call on lenders to lower interest rates and extend payments, waive licensing fees and find emergency grants to avoid foreclosures and bankruptcies. The Council must also establish a commission to oversee predatory lending and stop inflated values.
Raise fare rates so drivers have a chance at economic recovery after five years of straight loss.
- No Congestion Pricing on Drivers' backs! In the midst of this crisis, Albany passed a Congestion Pricing plan lobbied for by Wall Street. It's aimed at further destabilizing the taxi industry that has contributed over $1 billion toward the MTA since 2009 and rewarding Uber, Lyft business model that takes aim directly at mass transit.
- Health and Benefits Fund, including retirement for all drivers and mental health resources.
- Regulate App Companies. Don't scapegoat App Drivers. No fees on drivers' backs. No one-App restriction.