How Covid exacerbated New York Metropolis taxi drivers’ long-term debt as a result of inflated fares


When Partap Singh purchased a taxi medallion, a allow to independently function a taxi in New York Metropolis, in 1993, he thought he had discovered gold. As a Sikh immigrant from the Indian state of Punjab, he had accepted the concept that the $ 140,000 funding was a ticket to middle-class life.

For years, Singh wakened at 4 a.m. to work 16-hour shifts, six days per week. On account of the grueling hours, he developed numerous severe well being issues, together with power again ache and eyestrain that required surgical procedure.

However after three a long time, Singh, 62, nonetheless owes greater than $ 65,000 in medallion loans.

It is a long-standing disaster associated to inflated license charges that has been exacerbated by Covid-19, which has crushed demand for journey. Singh, who drives 60 hours per week, stated he earns $ 10 an hour “on a very good day,” which does not all the time cowl his prices. Your mortgage and insurance coverage funds, in addition to gasoline, surcharges and restore charges, can add as much as greater than $ 3,000 a month. You’re additionally behind in your medallion mortgage, bank card payments, and property taxes.

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“I’ve no future, no well being care plan, no financial savings, no retirement, nothing,” Singh stated. “I do not understand how we are able to survive in our previous age and who’s going to care for us.”

Final week, the town introduced a plan to spend $ 65 million from a federal stimulus package deal on an support fund to offer drivers with as much as $ 29,000 in interest-free loans to refinance their money owed. The proposal is the primary concrete step the town has taken to handle the plight of drivers. However driver advocates and a few elected officers say it falls far in need of the form of rescue most drivers want. Every single day and evening for the previous week, drivers protested the town’s plan in entrance of Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence.

In 2018, a collection of driver suicides uncovered how predatory lending practices and authorities complicity trapped hundreds of medallion consumers in dangerous loans they could not repay. All through the 2000s, trade leaders artificially inflated the costs of medallions from $ 200,000 to greater than $ 1 million, overpaying and advertising them as infallible autos for financial success, whereas extracting windfall earnings from them. curiosity and price funds. Because the market crashed in 2014, partially because of the rise of Uber and Lyft, practically 1,000 owner-drivers have filed for chapter.

Right this moment’s common driver owes about $ 500,000 in loans, which might be repaid in month-to-month installments of about $ 3,000.

“These drivers have given 30 to 40 years of their lives to those New York streets and all they’ve incurred is debt,” stated one advocate. “I feel 9 to 12 months from now, you will note huge foreclosures and bankruptcies.”

Now, in a world pandemic that’s wreaking havoc available on the market, medallion debt has become a disaster for older immigrants, lots of whom have depleted their retirement financial savings and will lose their properties as they enter the twilight zone. their lives. The fallout may hit New York’s South Asian neighborhood particularly, as immigrants from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan make up greater than 43 % of the town’s taxi drivers, in keeping with 2014 information of the Metropolis Taxi and Limousine Fee.

“These drivers have given 30 to 40 years of their lives to those New York streets, and all they’ve incurred is debt,” stated Bhairavi Desai, government director of the New York Taxi Staff Alliance, a union representing 21,000 taxi drivers. and carpool drivers. “I feel 9 to 12 months from now, you will note huge foreclosures and bankruptcies.”

Greater than 90 % of drivers age 62 and older have lively loans, in keeping with a latest survey by the union. 4 out of 5 reported being meals insecure; 1 in 3 has contracted Covid-19 or lives with somebody who has contracted it.

The union additionally proposed a debt aid plan. In distinction to the mayor’s plan, it might cut back loans to a most of $ 125,000 and restructure month-to-month funds to roughly $ 750. It will price the town $ 75 million over 20 years.

Desperation over their plight has turned older individuals into activists and pushed their grownup youngsters to run for public workplace. Over the previous few weeks, immigrant drivers have organized a collection of actions to demand debt aid, together with closing the Brooklyn Bridge and offering scorching testimony at Zoom hearings.

The medallion debt disaster has introduced Felicia Singh, a public faculty trainer and Metropolis Council candidate, and her household to the brink of homelessness. Final summer season, his father misplaced his locket, which he purchased for 1 / 4 of one million {dollars} in 1988, after falling behind on his $ 3,200 month-to-month mortgage funds. In February, the chapter courtroom put their home available on the market, giving the Singhs lower than 80 days to gather $ 100,000 in debt settlement.

The truth that the town doesn’t get up for working-class individuals, Singh stated, is among the causes he’s campaigning to characterize Southern Queens.

“The troublesome factor right here for me is that 9 individuals have taken their very own lives and that was not sufficient for the town to cease and do one thing,” he stated. “The truth that we’re not in a pandemic but is just not making the town transfer urgently.”

Desai stated older South Asian drivers additionally should navigate language and cultural boundaries to hunt public well being and social companies. In lots of instances, he stated, an absence of ample language assets has restricted his means to get vaccinated, apply for pandemic aid loans and apply for unemployment advantages.

“South Asians have an extra threat of propensity for metabolic syndrome, so that they have an incredible threat of coronary heart illness,” stated one skilled. “It is a horrible drawback that might be solved by taking some monetary stress off drivers.”

On the identical time, working into previous age may cause issues for a bunch with underlying well being issues.

Taxi Community, a neighborhood well being and analysis program developed by the Immigrant Most cancers and Well being Disparities Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Most cancers Middle, hosts free well being gala’s for drivers in taxi garages and neighborhood organizations. Medical doctors stated that once they carried out well being screenings in South Asian enclaves, they discovered staggering charges of untreated hypertension, excessive ldl cholesterol and diabetes.

“South Asians are at an extra threat of being susceptible to metabolic syndrome, so they’re at super threat for coronary heart illness,” stated Dr. Francesca Gany, co-founder and director of the initiative. “It is a horrible drawback that might be solved by taking some monetary stress off drivers.”

For a lot of working-class immigrants from South Asia, the lasting legacy of the medallion disaster stands out as the accumulation of generational debt.

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When the medallion market crashed in 2014, Partap Singh’s daughter, Jaslin Kaur, had simply began her freshman yr at college. With the costs of medallions plummeting, her household may not finance her schooling, so she needed to get a hefty mortgage to complete faculty, which she continues to be paying off immediately.

“It is one collection of crises at a time,” she stated, including that her household’s monetary struggles impressed her to run for a Metropolis Council seat this yr in an Jap Queens borough with a big southern working-class inhabitants. from Asia.

Preventing for debt aid “is all about job justice,” Kaur stated, “for individuals who have been really scammed out of one thing that was meant to offer a path to financial stability and financial prosperity.”

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