This month, New York City officials took dramatic steps to help ease the financial plight of taxi drivers who are facing crushing debt after getting into the business—steps that are important to help out an industry that provides the foundation upon which a city’s economy can grow, says Ted Landsmark, who is a Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern.
A series of bills passed by members of the New York City Council will address the financial crisis that has emerged in the last two decades for people purchasing city permits—known as medallions—that allow a driver to own a yellow cab instead of working for someone else.
The bills will examine the city’s role in creating a lending crisis, while two measures announced by New York Mayor Bill De Blasio would eliminate as much as $10 million in fees to medallion owners and extend a moratorium on adding new Uber and Lyft vehicles to the city.
These were important measures, Landsmark says, that “provide some support” for taxi drivers who “provide services at times of the day when many other people don’t want to work.”
Without taxi drivers, Landsmark says, the people who work at major airports in the wee hours of the morning, or the people who just spent an evening in a local club, or the people who work the graveyard shift at a manufacturing plant wouldn’t be able to get where they’re going and back.
“Their service is a very needed service,” Landsmark says, “because many cities find it difficult to provide off-hour transportation.”
Recent, high-profile deaths by suicide of New York taxi drivers have helped, albeit tragically, raise awareness of the economic despair of those in the industry as well as highlight the key role taxi drivers play in a city’s economy, Landsmark says.
“These suicides have raised the profile of a business that, to a large extent, has been below the radar of cities, but has provided substantial revenues to cities,” he says.
Taxi medallions—or their counterparts in other states—allow city officials to regulate traffic congestion because only a certain number of permits are available. In New York, 13,587 medallions are circulating. Boston has 1,825. The strict limit means that city officials can control how many cars are on the roads, while the taxi drivers themselves provide a service to city residents who need to get around while public transportation is shut down, Landsmark says.
Those residents, in turn, are often responsible for keeping key industries running, even at odd hours.
“Think about the number of workers who have to get to Logan Airport [in Boston] to service the airport prior to the time that most mass transit in Boston functions,” Landsmark says. “Think about the importance of Logan Airport to the regional economy. Having taxis and ride-sharing services keeps the economy functioning.”