By Rachel Kaufman
New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) has agreed to pause the collection of nearly $20 million in medallion renewal fees which would have been due this week in an effort to give cab drivers some relief, the New York Post reports.
The city typically charges medallion renewal fees of between $540 and $1,650 every two years, according to the Post.
Councilmember Mark Levine has introduced a bill to study the “problem of medallion owners with excessive debt” and a companion bill to provide financial and mental health counseling to drivers, and he called the TLC’s move “a short-term step to provide some relief to the drivers while we work out a longer-term policy.”
“Independent owner-drivers who played by the rules set by the city are now enduring extraordinary financial hardships through absolutely no fault of their own,” Levine said in a statement, reported by the Daily News. “After having bought an asset because they had a guarantee from the city about its underlying value, our city has failed these small business owners.”
TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi said that the “renewal fee is one more payment for medallion owners at a time when every penny counts,” according to the Post.
Taxi medallions, which once were valued as high as $1.3 million, according to the NY Daily News, are now worth about a tenth of that, but many drivers either took out enormous loans to buy their own or borrowed cash against the medallions’ value. Melrose Credit Union, which issued many of the loans, is now insolvent. The federal government is now holding the medallion loans, Documented NY reported in September, and once the government took over the loans, it became less responsive, drivers said. Many drivers took out loans in the six figures.
Seven for-hire drivers have committed suicide since November 2017, the Post said, with many citing crushing debt as the reason. Taxi drivers have turned to blaming TLC commissioner Joshi, calling for her firing and chasing her away from a vigil for Uber driver Fausto Luna, who jumped in front of a subway car in September.
The TLC doesn’t have authority to regulate ride-hail companies like Uber and Lyft, New York Taxi Workers Alliance executive director Bhairavi Desai told AM New York. Only the City Council can.
This summer, New York’s City Council voted to cap the number of app-based cars on the road as well as mandate minimum pay for drivers. Uber was “none too pleased” by the vote, as Next City reported at the time, but the move could be a boon for drivers if it reduces competition.
Uber driver Tidiane Samassa wrote in an op-ed for the NY Daily News that “sometimes it now takes me over an hour driving around before I get a passenger, because all around me there are thousands of other for-hire cars also empty. All of us are competing for a smaller slice of the pie.”
As for the medallion fees, the city is reserving the right to collect them later, after Levine’s bills move through the legislative process, the NY Daily News reported.