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‘New dawn’ for NYC taxi drivers after mayor agrees to debt relief

NYC taxi drivers are celebrating after a new agreement between their union and the city will slash hundreds of thousands of dollars off their medallion loans. 

Fifteen days after starting a hunger strike, thousands of indebted New York City taxi drivers got the relief they’ve spent years pleading for.

Their union, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, came to an agreement with Mayor Bill de Blasio that will slash hundreds of thousands of dollars from medallion owners’ loans. 

The city’s taxi medallions were once meant to be a way for drivers to buy, operate and profit from their own cabs. But the proliferation of ride sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, have severely cut into taxi industry profits in recent years. Then predatory lending and industry leaders' driving up the medallion prices led to inflated loan amounts and crushing debt for owners. The drivers in the program, 40 percent of whom are South Asian, owe upward of $500,000 on average. 

“I’m going to be enslaved for the rest of my life,” driver Mohamadou Aliyu, who owed $630,000, told NBC Asian America last month. “Not only that I will never be able to pay it off, my kids will never be able to pay it off.” 

But Wednesday’s decision means that will change. 

After months of being the final holdout in a sea of political support, de Blasio came around and agreed to the relief plan proposed by the alliance. Loans will now be reduced to a maximum of $170,000 with a city-backed guarantee, a contrast from the city’s original plan, which drivers said would have hardly made a dent.

“No more debt beyond our lifetime,” the alliance said on Twitter. “No more risk of losing homes.”

Dozens of drivers participating in the hunger strike and camping outside City Hall had some high-profile visitors, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and actor Kal Penn. Supporters of their protest included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and New York’s entire congressional delegation. State Assembly member Zohran Mamdani even camped out with the protestors and took part in the strike.

A person attends a protest by New York taxi drivers about debt relief in New York on Oct. 20, 2021.
A person attends a protest by New York taxi drivers about debt relief in New York on Oct. 20, 2021.Carlo Allegri / Reuters file

The mayor, who held firm on his original debt relief proposal as recently as mid-October, released a statement congratulating the drivers on their win

“Taxi workers have worked tirelessly to make New York City the most vibrant city in the world, and we refuse to leave them behind,” de Blasio said in a statement. “I’m proud to have worked with Senator Schumer, NYTWA, and Marblegate to reach an equitable, sustainable solution that builds on the success we’ve achieved in reducing debt burdens for the hard-working drivers who keep our city moving.”

Union officials thanked the mayor on Twitter, excited about the fresh start this means for so many drivers whose lives were destroyed or even cut short in the wake of financial struggles

“Thank you so much @NYCMayor for your leadership,” the tweet said. “You fixed a wrong that was inherited and it will save lives.  Drivers have a fighting chance now and know that you made it possible. We thank you and your whole team for your work on making this new dawn possible.”