Taxi Workers Alliance’s Bhairavi Desai on Why Drivers Need a Rescue Plan


What was the role of Uber and Lyft?

They started a race to the bottom and destroyed a full-time job which, especially for immigrant workers, was one of the last where you could make a decent living. Uber and Lyft launched a business model that not only sought to destroy existing industries in the most unfair and anti-competitive manner, but they did so by going after drivers.

What could the taxi drivers and their union have done differently?

First, drivers had to take a break before signing up to work for Uber and Lyft. They put bonuses on the table and all of these incentives, and you understand the desperation that many drivers feel. But it took too long for our union to really grow in numbers. The corrupt political class was not going to stop these big companies who were lobbying. It would only be a united voice of the pilots.

What role did the Taxi and Limousine Commission play?

The TLC tells you which shade of yellow you should have on your car. It would have been impossible for the yellow cab drivers to assume that the TLC did not have a robust regulatory system in place. So many drivers have become homeowners spending their savings on buying a locket just because TLC said, “It’s a good investment.”

Why do you think a bailout will be successful?

We say $ 125,000 is the limit on medallion loans. Amortized at 4% over 20 years, that’s $ 757 per month. These numbers reflect what we consider to be the maximum that locket owners can pay. We tried to balance an amount that was livable for those with active loans and also an amount that would not reduce the value of the locket.

How can the city help?

The second part of our proposal is to get the city to support the loan of medallions. If someone bids more, the city doesn’t have to buy it. The city can also sell the loans after the purchase. Lenders can be confident that loans are at their lowest point, and they don’t have to keep re-evaluating them.

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