New York livery drivers protest, occupy Taxi Commission

Two hundred livery cab drivers, union members of the Coalition of Taxicabs of New York, demonstrated outside the headquarters of the Taxi Limousine Commission on Sept. 3 to protest the Five Borough Taxi plan sponsored by the TLC and billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

What started as a news conference at noon turned into a virtual occupation of the TLC by drivers, their family members and representatives of such community organizations as the New York Coalition against Hunger, Parents to Improve School Transportation and Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs & Services, with everyone staying until 3:30 p.m.

At the press conference, spokespeople for COTANY denounced the plans as an attempt to drive livery drivers deep into debt to the banks as well as to eliminate the livelihood of thousands of livery drivers across the city, nearly all of whom are from the oppressed communities.

COTANY spokesperson Jose Basora Sueana told the media, “Borough Taxi would take away the jobs of 50 percent of livery drivers who already have to pay $70 weekly to base companies that own the radio call for passengers, as well as for auto repairs and the fee for TLC inspections of vehicles. Adding these new costs forces drivers to take loans from the banks and the owners [of the vehicles].

“This plan is racist and is taking the jobs from a lot of people of color from Latin America, Africa and South Asia.”

There are some 38,000 livery drivers in New York City, who drive more than 24,800 livery vehicles, far more than the 12,237 yellow cabs. By law, livery service is “on call” only — drivers are prohibited from picking up “hailing” passengers. But the yellow cabs with the pick-up medallions seldom go into the oppressed communities outside of Manhattan, so livery drivers risk $500 fines if they pick up people on the street who need transport service in the boroughs.

Since the liveries do not require the purchase of taxi medallions, which can cost from $500,000 to $1 million each, city officials and their banker patrons have been seeking new ways to further enrich themselves on the backs of the livery drivers.

To pave the way for this new scheme, the New York Police Department has stepped up harassment of livery drivers. Radio commentator and COTANY supporter Eddie Moli told the press that the NYPD “Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect” unit has been stopping drivers, checking their licenses and vehicles, and even imposing the infamous stop-and – frisk procedure on passengers.

The new Five Borough Taxi plan demands that livery drivers pay a yearly fee of $1,500.

Also, drivers would be forced to have their vehicles painted lime green, as well as have a meter, credit-card reader and a GPS unit installed, driving the total cost to $5,000-$6,000. Since livery drivers work in the oppressed communities on a cash basis without big tips, COTANY estimates that half the livery drivers will be unable to continue working.

COTANY Co-Chair Pedro Joaquin Aquillai said at the press conference, “We will bring the drivers’ families and people from the communities, churches, school unions and other organizations, the people who need this service, to the front door of the TLC commission office at 33 Beaver Street in Manhattan.” Aquillai called jobs for the drivers “a constitutional right.”

Norman Salce, a livery-cab driver in uptown Manhattan, told the Latin Times: “I definitely think that they want to get us out of uptown Manhattan so that the yellow taxis can get in there. As white North Americans have changed the area, they’re coming up to uptown Manhattan to live. They’re calling the Taxi and Limousine Office to send yellow taxis, because they don’t want to use the black cabs.” (Sept. 3)

New York Taxi Workers Alliance Director Bhairavi Desai told Workers World after the press conference, “We sent out 20 alliance workers to the base areas of livery cab drivers throughout the five boroughs to help organize the livery drivers to keep their jobs in the boroughs and to win benefits.”

COTANY has organized a petition campaign that has already gathered 8,000 signatures. The petition states: “A great threat has risen against livery cab drivers; a great catastrophe is coming. … An uncertain future is approaching; a dangerous storm that threatens to destroy us all is just around the corner!”

COTANY holds weekly meetings every Tuesday in the different boroughs; for information, call 646-841-7041 or 917-325-9571.

Stevens drove a cab for 23 years.