NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — City taxi drivers have been on a hunger strike for almost two weeks.
The group is protesting the city’s $65 million medallion debt relief program, saying it falls short, CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported Sunday.READ MORE: NYC Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter Stepping Down
About 25 everyday New Yorkers joined the cause in front of City Hall.
“These guys are mired in debt for no reason, so I’m here and my heart is open to them,” Stu Waldnan said.
“As a human being, it’s our obligation, every one of us, to be here and stand in solidarity with people who are giving to the city,” Ann Shirazi added.
For weeks, the cabbies have been speaking out against the city’s medallion relief program, which offers $20,000 grants to struggling medallion owners to help restructure their debt, along with $9,000 in debt payment support.
Owners say the program is simply not enough.
“I’m feeling so honestly very hungry, very dizziness and headache and weakness. I’m so tired,” cabbie Richard Chow said.
Chow owes nearly $400,000 on his medallion loan. In 2018, his brother, also a taxi driver, committed suicide due to crippling debt.
Chow said he had no choice but to join the strike.READ MORE: Explosion Rocks Home, Sparks Fire Overnight In Cypress Hills; 6 People Hurt
“I’m fighting for my brother. I’m fighting for for myself. I’m fighting for 6,000 medallion owners, plus their families, for justice and fairness,” Chow said.
The owners want the city and lenders to reduce outstanding loans to $145,000, with the city acting as a backstop.
The group said the city artificially inflated medallion prices between 2004 and 2014, which is why it has a responsibility to help those drowning in debt now.
“Who can expect a $20,000 grant to bring down a $550,000 loan? It’s just a joke, but it’s not funny when you consider the level of tragedy and crisis that we have,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
The city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission says its program has already restructured 173 medallion loans, equaling more than $21 million in debt forgiveness, with nearly 1,000 more loans in the pipeline.
Still, the cabbies say, without more help, they will not survive.
“I cannot afford my bills. It’s very hard,” medallion owner Balkar Singh said.
Medallion owners at City Hall said they plan to continue their hunger strike indefinitely, adding they won’t give up until they receive the relief they need.MORE NEWS: NYPD: Officer Fires On Suspect Fleeing Traffic Stop In Brooklyn
CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.