The head of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance begged officials on Monday to regulate ride-share services that are taking business away from the city's cabs, days after another taxi driver died by suicide.
The driver, Abdul Saleh, 59, last week became the sixth New York City cab driver to take his own life in the past eight months amid financial hardships, according to the taxi union.
A Yemeni immigrant, Saleh was trying to earn a living for himself and his family overseas, but couldn't keep up with his cab lease payments, said Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of the Alliance, which advocates on cabbies' behalf.
"That's six drivers who lost their lives because the city of New York did not do its job and regulate Wall Street companies that came into town with little to no regulation," Desai said during a press conference on Monday.
"We are living in one of the wealthiest cities across this globe. How is it possible that you have professional workers that have been driven to suicide because the poverty is so crushing and because there is such a sense of hopelessness, because of political inaction?" she added.
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Desai, joined by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y., called on the city council to vote on several proposals that would mitigate the effects of ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft on the city's cab drivers.
"All we're asking for is a cap on the number of vehicles. We now have 130,000 cars competing for the same set of fares that 65,000 cars used to do five years ago," she said. "The math doesn't add up, and that deficit means less money for food, less money for rent, less time with their families."
The alliance is also asking for city council members to set an industry standard of fares, to set up retirement funds for all drivers, and to work with lenders to lower interest rates for yellow cab drivers struggling to keep up with debt payments for their pricey taxi medallions, among other things.
The medallions have long been a requirement to operate a cab in New York. Ride-hailing services don't need such medallions.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance also represents black-car drivers as well as drivers for Uber and Lyft. In her impassioned plea to city officials, Desai also called for protections for Uber and Lyft drivers — not a ban on them.
"All we need is basic regulation that not only protects the livery, the black-car, the yellow-cab and green-cab driver, but also the Uber and the Lyft driver. We said we're brothers and sisters on the streets. We're brothers and sisters in the struggle. We have fought for a way for everybody to survive," she said. "As a result, people aren't just starving or being evicted, facing homelessness, they are now dying."
Saleh, the driver who took his life last week, had been working as long as 12-hour shifts for the past seven years, Desai said last week. He had been offered an opportunity to drive with Uber but wanted to continue driving a yellow cab, she said.
She said that with no retirement funds, switching to Uber or Lyft would only result in taxi drivers falling deeper into poverty.
On Monday, Desai called on other cab drivers to reach out for support if they needed it.
"There is help. Don't you dare give up," she said. "You have a movement behind you that cares for and supports you."
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.