On November 14, 2018, Bhairavi Desai, New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director, released the following statement:
“We are devastated by the news that an eighth New York City professional driver has died by suicide. Friends described Roy Kim as hardworking, quiet, and dignified. Roy worked six days a week up to 14 hours a day. Friends in his community of Korean yellow taxi drivers took him out to dinner to celebrate after he purchased his medallion in 2017. Owner-drivers have suffered a deep and vicious slide from the middle class into crushing poverty, in a just a few short years.”
“This crisis can be fixed. The struggle for owner-drivers is reminiscent of the 2008 housing crisis. In that crisis, the industry, government, advocates, and philanthropy came to the table to find solutions. Now, banks and lenders need to work with the city and philanthropy to write off 20% of outstanding debts, lower interest rates, and restructure contracts so that no owner-driver has to lose more than 20% of their monthly income to the mortgage. Drivers need a buffer to stop sinking. And that means financial relief. While the city builds on the For-Hire-Vehicle cap and moves on a package of bills, including one that passed today on a Council Taskforce to study medallion debt, change can’t come fast enough when every day is a struggle for drivers.”
Since learning of Roy Kim’s death from his friends, NYTWA has been working closely with his community to plan a payer ceremony.
These are the seven other New York City drivers who took their own life because of financial despair:
Fausto Luna was an Uber driver and Dominican immigrant who lived and worked in Washington Heights.
Abdul Saleh, a yellow cab lease driver, was the sixth NYC professional driver to commit suicide in recent months. 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.
Yu Mein Kenny Chow was 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 was a yellow taxi owner-driver who drove with his wife (there is also a GoFundMe to help Nicanor’s wife).
Danilo Corporan Castillo was a Bronx livery driver who wrote his suicide note on a Taxi and Limousine Summons.
Alfredo Perez was a Bronx livery driver who hung himself in November.
Douglas Schifter was 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.
Nicanor Ochisor, who took his own life in March 2018, was nearing retirement after splitting shifts with his wife for three decades. A Grandfather in his sixties, he saw no prospects of retiring with dignity, but instead, the twilight years of his life in poverty after he’d served the city for over 30 years behind the wheel. Two months later, Kenny Chow, took his own life. Kenny’s last medallion mortgage payment had bounced. After losing his job in the jewelry industry, he entered the taxi business, using all of his savings and borrowed money to purchase a medallion to buy his job security. As the industry took an economic downturn, Kenny found it impossible to keep up with operating expenses, let alone living expenses, such as college tuition and healthcare for his family. The stories of Nicanor and Kenny reflect the realities confronting owner-drivers across this industry. Now, Roy Kim has become the third yellow taxi owner-driver to take his own life.
Owner-driver expenses average $5,500 to $9,000 per month. And unlike FHVs, yellow cabs must be retired after six years, be brand new when first hacked up, and be limited to a model approved by the TLC.
Owner-drivers who lease to a second shift driver have also traditionally charged less than garages or agents. Today, the average $90 lease per shift totals about $28,000 per year. An owner-driver with the above expenses would have to gross (after the MTA tax, tolls and surcharge), $65,477 per year, or $1,300 per week over 50 weeks worked, just to break even with their operating expenses to avoid bankruptcy or foreclosure.
To earn income so they and their family can survive, they would need to book another $1,300 per week, or average $344 per shift, minus shift expenses. Given fixed expenses and the downturn in ridership, it’s been impossible for drivers to survive.
Meanwhile, there has not been consistent or industry-wide cooperation among lenders to lower interest rates or extend loan periods to alleviate some of the monthly burdens. The bills 1069 and 304 are the first steps in empowering the city to help alleviate debt and prevent foreclosures and bankruptcies.
NYTWA members mobilized nonstop since last November to win the Uber cap. Family members of the drivers who committed suicide joined us for actions leading up to the City Council vote in August. George Schifter, the brother of black car driver Doug Schifter, who shot himself outside City Hall, flew all the way from Florida to join us for the vote.
Before the historic cap on new for-hire vehicles went into effect, 2,000 new for-hire-vehicles were added to NYC streets every single month, worsening gridlock and creating a race to the bottom for over a hundred thousand drivers struggling to survive. The cap was the first step to halt the crisis that pushed our driver brothers to take their own lives because of financial despair.
Now we need to build on that victory to stop the crisis that is continuing to push drivers into despair.
- 8th NYC professional driver dead by suicide. ‘We need measures to protect drivers now’, says Bhairavi Desai, Executive Director New York Taxi Workers Alliance.