UPDATED: On Thursday, July 12, the Taxi & Limousine Commission voted to support a 17 percent fare increase, including the six cents for the drivers’ healthcare fund. Six members of the commission voted in favor; two voted against and one abstained. The commission also approved a small adjustment in the amount that taxi owners can charge cabbies to rent their vehicles for a shift.
“There comes a time you need to make sure people can earn a decent living,” said Commissioner David S. Yassky after the vote.
The fares will go into effect in September.
“The drivers united will never be defeated!”
That was the rallying cry heard across City Hall Park early Wednesday afternoon as taxi drivers and union members briefed members of the media on why drivers deserve a raise.
The New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) will vote Thursday on whether to approve a 17 percent fare hike, which would be the first raise for drivers in eight years. Included in the proposal is the little-discussed creation of a taxi driver’s Health and Disability Fund — the first of its kind. If the proposal is approved, and the fund created, six cents from each taxi ride taken in the city will go into the fund.
According to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, the union that represents the drivers, 50 percent of all yellow cab drivers have no health insurance.
The TLC will also vote on Thursday whether to eliminate the five percent transaction fee drivers pay to their taxi company each time a trip is paid for by credit card. Replacing this arrangement would be a fee of $9 per shift.
It’s always a pressure on the brain. ‘What if I get sick?’ ‘What if I have to go to the doctor?’
Bhairavi Desai is the executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. She says the healthcare fund is a critical component of the Taxi & Limousine Commission’s proposal, and will make a huge difference in the lives of the drivers.
Kuldeep Singh, 47, a resident of Floral Park, Queens, has been driving a taxi for 24 years. He buys private insurance for his family, which includes his wife and three children under 18. He says the insurance is about $800 per month for his whole family, and he can’t afford it.
“It [a workplace healthcare fund] would be a big help for us because it’s very expensive,” he said. “It’s always a pressure on the brain. ‘What if I get sick?’ ‘What if I have to go to the doctor?’ “
Here’s how the proposed 17 percent fare hike would shake out. The charge for each fifth of a mile traveled, or each 60 seconds in stopped or slow traffic, would be raised to 50 cents from 40 cents. There would also be a $7 increase in fares between Kennedy International Airport and Manhattan, amounting to $52, plus tolls. The surcharge on metered rides to Newark Liberty International Airport would also rise, to $17.50 from $15.
The last taxi fare increase was in 2004, when fares rose by 26 percent. In 2006, the city raised the price added for each minute that a cab was stopped or moved slowly in traffic, and in 2009, a 50-cent surcharge was added to help support the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
Singh said the extra six cents for driver healthcare should be approved, especially considering the 50-cent surcharge for the MTA, which is basically just a bail-out.
“Health is more important,” he said.
Frederick Dsouza, 48, a cab driver from Elmhurst, Queens, is considered a low-income worker by the state of New York, and therefore receives healthcare through the government. But his coverage is limited.
“Everything is not covered,” he said, adding he often often buys medicine at the drug store instead of visiting a doctor.
But Singh and Dsouza are actually better off than 50 percent of cabbies. According to Desai, while the taxi drivers who pay for private insurance also stand to benefit from the healthcare fund, the uninsured will really see their lives change.
Bill Lindaur, 68, of Long Island City, Queens, drove a cab for 30 years, and he never had health insurance. He said he had to lie about his income in order to get Medicaid for his wife, who was suffering from a terminal illness. He later went bankrupt.
“I never went to doctors,” he said. “I was desperate.”
David S. Yassky, the TLC chairman, has said he expects the proposal to be adopted. If it is, it could go into effect as early as September of this year. As for the Healthcare and Disability Fund, how that will be organized and run remains to be seen. Desai says there will likely be a competitive bid process. The one definite is that disability coverage will also be included.
“Even when out of work, drivers have to pay for their lease to the taxi company,” she said. With the fund, “If you’re unable to work because of an injury or illness, you would receive compensation.”
Desai is optimistic the proposals will pass.
“This is the closest we’ve come to truly uplifting these exploitative conditions,” she said.