NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — The chief executive of Uber said New York City should impose a fee on app-hailed rides and taxis to help taxi medallion owners who are struggling with debt.
CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that the city should put the surcharge into a fund to help taxi owners who bought their medallions at sky-high prices.
“In circumstances where medallion owner-operators are having a hard time, where technology has changed and demand patterns has changed their environment, we would support some kind of fee or pool to be formed, a hardship fund, call it,” Khosrowshahi said.
Because taxi drivers in New York City are required to own them, medallions were once extremely valuable and highly coveted because the demand for cabs was stable. But in the years since Uber and similar companies disrupted the industry, a medallion’s value has fallen from as much as $1 million to $200,000.
“It’s not easy to support a family,” yellow cab driver Tufail Aha told CBS2’s Lisa Rozner.
Drivers working for Uber and other app-based companies don’t need medallions, and many taxi owners who thought their medallions would continue to grow in value say they are now hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Advocates have blamed five apparent suicides of drivers since last November on the taxi industry’s woes.
In the most recent case, yellow cab owner-driver Yu Mein Chow was found floating in the East River last month. The city medical examiner has not determined a cause of death, but Chow’s family members believe he jumped to his death.
A livery cab driver shot himself to death outside City Hall in February after writing a Facebook post blaming politicians for the taxi industry’s decline.
New Yorkers are mixed on the idea.
“I’d be fine paying a little extra if it does help taxi drivers,” West Village resident Amy Davila said.
“That wouldn’t be fair to the riders,” West Village resident Octavia Legare said. “People work hard for the money.”
No one from Uber would go on camera, but Khosrowshahi says they want to help. Groups that represent drivers aren’t buying it.
“Dara Khosrowshahi’s proposals are a slap in the face to struggling drivers and an attempt to get out of being regulated,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance. “Workers aren’t looking for a handout or hardship fund. They’re looking to earn a livable income and protect their full time jobs that require regulation.”
The city has discussed limiting the amount of ride-sharing vehicles on the road, but nothing has passed. Meanwhile, app-based drivers say they don’t like the idea of a mandatory surcharge either.
“First it should be a minimum livable wage for Uber drivers before we can go help other drivers,” driver Sohail Rana said.
The Independent Drivers Guild, which represents Uber drivers, said, Khosrowshahi “needs to address the widespread hardship faced by drivers for his own company before considering taking another cut from our sub-minimum-wage pay.”
The CEO won’t put a number on the proposed surcharge, but says it’s a fee that can increase over time. CBS2 reached out to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, but City Hall isn’t commenting on the surcharge suggestion.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)