A string of five apparent New York taxi driver suicides in five months has advocates concerned about the impact of Uber and Lyft, as well as the loans cabdrivers have relied on to purchase taxi medallions.
Yu Mein Chow was mourned by friends and family this weekend after his body was found floating in the East River — it’s believed that he jumped to his death after being unable to make a payment on the $700,000 loan he took out in 2011 to pay for his taxi medallion.
New York City’s cab industry has been dramatically transformed by the influx of around 70,000 Uber and Lyft cars over the last six years. The competition has forced some taxi drivers, most of whom are immigrants, to work 12 to 15 hours shifts while watching their wages plummet. Another driver shot himself on Feb. 5 outside City Hall after penning a Facebook post that blamed the industry’s woes on politicians.
Chow, whose wife has been battling Stage 4 colon cancer, took out a $700,000 mortgage with Melrose Credit Union in 2011 and initially listed only the medallion as his collateral, according to documents viewed by The New York Post.
However, he refinanced five years later and put everything he owned as collateral ‒ including his home ‒ sources told the Post.
“It’s more strict than anything we’ve ever seen,’’ New York Taxi Workers Alliance Executive Director Bhairavi Desai said. “They are not negotiating lower interest rates and are now requiring the owners put personal property like their homes up as collateral. This is ruining drivers’ lives.”
Before he took his own life, Chow could no longer afford his daughter’s college education nor his wife’s medical bills.
The credit union, which was taken over by the government last year due to “unsafe and unsound” practices, also reportedly financed the loan of Nicanor Ochisor, a taxicab driver who hanged himself in March over financial woes that he blamed on Uber and Lyft.
Regarding Chow’s death, a spokesperson from Uber told Fox News: “We are deeply saddened and our thoughts are with his family.”
"These are tragic losses and our hearts go out to the family and friends affected," a Lyft spokesperson told Fox News.
Taxi medallions, which were once sold for over $1 million, can now be had for as little as $175,000, according to data from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
The New York City Council is considering several bills that would curb the expansion of ride-sharing services — by charging annual fees to drivers, limiting how many apps one person can drive for or limiting the number of cars each company can have in operation.
A family member set up a GoFundMe to cover the costs of Chow’s widow’s medical bills.
“It’s a tragedy,” taxi driver Bigu Haider, 53, told the Post. “This never used to happen before.”