Cabbies protest congestion pricing fee they now have to charge; it’s killing business, and drivers, they say

MIDTOWN, Manhattan -- It's a proposal that would affect almost every driver in New York City starting in 2021, if it passes the state legislature this year.

However, congestion pricing -- the plan that would charge drivers for driving in the southern third of Manhattan's streets -- has already been in effect for yellow and green cab drivers since February 2.

Many of the drivers say that the added cost is ruining their business. On Wednesday, dozens of cab drivers held a mobile, and very loud, protest against the surcharge outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

A few dozen cabs taped protest signs to their vehicles, and drove around city blocks near the governor's office on Third Avenue and 41st Street on Thursday afternoon. As they passed, they honked their horns incessantly, and chanted anti-surcharge slogans along with other protesters, who were on the sidewalk.

They all said that the $2.50 surcharge, which is charged to passengers in addition to other base charges at the beginning of each ride, is killing business, and killing them, literally.

"One of my brothers, he bought a medallion [for] $700,000, [that] he couldn't pay to the bank," said cab driver Richard Chow, about his deceased brother, Yu Mein "Kenny" Chow. "He committed suicide in May."

A medallion is a metal plate displayed on the hood of a cab to show that it has city approval to operate. Each medallion costs six figures, but as recently as 10 years ago, they sold for $1 million a piece. There are now so many for-hire cars, such as Uber and Lyft, on New York City streets that medallions have significantly lost their value. Some drivers are able to get one for as low as $175,000.

Drivers also said that the congestion surcharge, which is designed to raise money for public transit improvements, is reducing the number of customers the taxis can attract.

"In rush hour, I pick up only one fare, two fares, that's it," said one driver who only gave his last name, Tong. "I lose a lot of business."

He was among the dozens honking their horns and yelling slogans outside of the governor's office. They said that they want their voices heard in Albany by the legislature, as well as by Gov. Cuomo.

"We wanted to remind our governor," said Bharavi Desai, president of the Taxi Drivers' Alliance, an advocacy group, "that behind each wheel is a person that is struggling, and we need an exemption" to the surcharge.

Her organization is endorsing a hike in taxes on higher income sources that it says are untaxed or under taxed. Desai said that taxes on hedge fund managers' incomes could raise $3 billion yearly for public transport, for example.

Wednesday's protest is the first of a series. Two more are planned for later this month.

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