With offices closed, tourism almost nonexistent and airports nearly empty, the pandemic has crushed New York City’s taxi industry, slashing revenue by 81 percent from last year, according to city data.
“I can’t hold on, not like this,” said Vinod Malhotra, who owns his cab and has driven for 27 years through terrorist attacks, natural disasters and economic calamities. “I can make it maybe one more month, maybe two.”
Ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft, also took a hit when the city largely shut down in the spring. But they have bounced back more quickly. Revenue is now about a third lower than last year, and the chief executive of Uber, Dara Khosrowshahi, said last week on a call with investors that city ridership outside of commuting hours had returned to normal.
Bruce Schaller, a former city transportation official, said customers might be using taxis less because they believed they were more of a health risk, even though that was not the case.
“I think taxis feel like more of a public space than an Uber car or Lyft car,” he said.
Almost all drivers in every sector stopped working altogether during the spring, when Covid-19 killed dozens of drivers. In a recent survey by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, nearly half of drivers said either they or someone in their home had contracted the virus.
While many drivers were out of work, they relied on the federal government’s enhanced unemployment program, which paid $600 a week in addition to state benefits. But those federal benefits ended over the summer, as did some other programs that kept cabdrivers afloat, including initiatives that paid taxi drivers to deliver meals to homes and provide rides for essential workers during overnight subway closures.
Many cabdrivers have been reluctant to return to work. In September, the average number of taxis operating each day was only about 30 percent of what it was a year earlier. Several fleet owners said they had called drivers to beg them to return, and some said they had offered financial incentives.
Self-employed drivers who bought the city permits, called medallions, that allow them to own and operate cabs face a particularly acute crisis. As The New York Times has reported, many were already squeezed before the pandemic after having been channeled into taking out large, exploitative loans to buy their medallions.
In January, a city task force proposed a $500 million bailout for drivers with such loans. In February, the New York State attorney general, Letitia A. James, said her office would sue the city for $810 million and use the money to compensate drivers.
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