NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Taxi medallions were once a luxury most livery drivers wanted, but thanks to rideshare apps like Uber, medallions are worth a lot less – leaving many owners drowning in debt.
Lawmakers are now stepping in to help, reports CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez.
Mouhamadou Aliyu, a 47-year-old married father of four, has been driving a taxi for nearly 20 years.
“This is who I am,” he says. “This is what I live for.”
Lately, he says he’s felt hopeless. The taxi medallion he bought in 2001 with a loan of $390,000 is currently worth about $100,000.
His debt has skyrocketed to more than $600,000, and now he can barely make ends meet.
“I don’t want to go back to poverty,” he said. “I came out of poverty.”
A Medallion Task Force created by the city council has come up with a plan to help bail out struggling medallion owners like Aliyu. The panel is recommending the city develop a public-private entity that would buy out the loans, then refinance at market value with fair interest rates.
Under this plan, Aliyu would go from paying $2,400 a month to $900 a month.
“If I have an opportunity to pay $900, I will get my life back again,” he said. “I won’t think about committing suicide.”
New York Congressman Gregory Meeks is also proposing new legislation that would guarantee taxi medallion owners wouldn’t be taxed for any debt forgiveness.
“Once they receive that forgiveness of those loans, the United States government will have their backs also,” said Meeks. “They won’t be taxed because of the good deeds of a financial institution trying to do the right thing.”
Members of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance say they feel optimistic drivers will get the financial relief they need.
“For the first time in a very long time, it’s heartwarming to see that we have congressional support,” said taxi driver Augustine Tang. “And because of this, the ball is now in the city’s hands.”
A spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio would only say the city will review the recommendations. Aliyu says he finally feels hopeful.
“It is a lifeline for me,” he said. “I just hope it comes true.”
Congressman Meeks will introduce his legislation on Friday. He says he’s already received a great deal of bipartisan support.