NEW YORK, N.Y.—Lines of yellow cabs oozed past Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Third Avenue offices March 6, honking their horns in polyphonic cacophony, their hoods, back-seat windows, and fenders bearing posters reading “Respect the Drivers” and “No More Suicides, No More Bankruptcies.” Someone called out “Tax the rich” in a South Asian accent, and the drivers answered back, “Not the poor,” joined by about a dozen supporters on the sidewalk. A passing M101 bus driver honked his horn in support.
The cabbies were calling on Cuomo to exempt yellow and green cabs from the congestion-pricing surcharge on all trips by for-hire vehicles that go anywhere below 96th Street in Manhattan. The $2.50-a-trip levy on yellow and green cabs went into effect Feb. 2. “This surcharge will not reduce congestion, but it will decimate cab drivers, and as drivers’ revenue drops, so will the revenue the state is relying on for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority,” the New York Taxi Workers Alliance said in a statement.
NYTWA leader Bhairavi Desai said they chose to protest by having clusters of five to 10 cabs drive by Cuomo’s office because they didn’t want to ask drivers to take time off for a rally yet again, and it’s extremely difficult to get a permit for an organized motorcade.
The governor has not responded to the union on the issue, Desai told LaborPress. “Nothing at all,” she said. “It’s been a month of suffering for the drivers, and a month of silence from the governor.”
“The surcharge on all rides in Manhattan’s central business district is a positive step in our efforts to find a dedicated revenue stream for our subways and buses, as well as easing congestion throughout the district,” Cuomo spokesperson Patrick Muncie responded. “More than $1 million a day is now going directly to the MTA, and we are moving forward vigorously with a full congestion pricing plan that will cover a total of $15 billion for the MTA’s capital budget to ensure New Yorkers have a safe, reliable transportation system.”
Drivers say the surcharge has cut into their fares, especially discouraging passengers from taking short trips, where the percentage increase is greatest—a 15-block trip that would have cost $6.30 plus tip before is now $8.80. “People don’t take the taxi when it starts at seven dollars,” says Dalilbad Bawa, 60, of Queens, who has been driving for 21 years.
“They’re killing us. The small fares, nobody’s taking any more,” says Parmjit Singh, who has been driving for 25 years. The job once paid well enough for his family to buy a house on Long Island, but now, with an $1,860 mortgage payment on his medallion and $2,500 on his house, “it’s very hard.”
“It’s crazy. I can’t afford it,” said Julia, a Westchester County woman passing by the protest who didn’t want to give her last name because she’s looking for a job. “I’ll walk 20 blocks in the freaking cold.”
Taxis are “part of the fabric of the city,” she added, and them being forced out of business would be a tragedy.
Baldev Braich of Queens, who has been driving a cab since the mid-1970s, said the surcharge hasn’t reduced his tips, but “a lot of people are complaining.” He believes it’s unfair.
“This is a tax,” he says. “We can’t leave the car to go to work.”
Drivers point out that both times the fare has been increased since 2012, it has been for surcharges that go directly to the government, with nothing to the driver. “No money, no honey,” said a driver in a teal-blue Sikh turban. “Why doesn’t Governor Cuomo listen to us? He wants to kill us?”