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Drowning In Debt, Taxi Drivers Hold 'Day Of Action,' Shut Down Brooklyn Bridge And Rally Outside Of Gracie Mansion

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Taxi drivers are pleading for debt relief.

Many already struggling under the cost of pricey medallions say the coronavirus pandemic has made their economic pain even worse.

Some of those drivers spoke with CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.

CBS2 met Mostapha Alabsy outside his Jersey City home, where he was met with a loving embrace from his five grandchildren, including three from his native Yemen.

"I promised for them a good life in America," Alabsy said.

For 25 years, Alabsy has gotten into his yellow cab and chased the American dream in New York City. But for months now, the taxi has been sitting in his driveway with signs reading "Not working since March 2020."

His last shift, he only made $40.

Taxi debt medallion
(Photo: CBS2)

"I don't want unemployment. I want to go back to work a normal way as a taxi driver, taking care of my family, taking care of my loans," Alabsy said.

But the 68-year-old surrendered his plates and put his medallion in storage. He's among 7,000 drivers, his union said, who did the same to save on insurance.

Alabsy needs to pay off that medallion, which he purchased in 2008, for $600,000. He still owes more than half.

He said he's worried he could end up homeless or back in the hospital.

"This is when I have the open-heart surgeries in 2014, because I was working so much," Alabsy said, showing DeAngelis a picture. "If I don't get the solution for my debt, the lender or the bank is gonna take my house. These kids are going to be homeless on the street."

The medallion is a city permit required to operate a cab, a system started in the 1930s.

It was once valued at over $1 million, but has since plummeted, due in part to the rise of ride-sharing like Uber and Lyft. The struggles were then perpetuated by the pandemic. The Taxi and Limousine Commission reported that ridership dropped 92% in June.

Alabsy was among immigrant drivers who testified at a City Council committee hearing. Meanwhile, others rallied outside Gracie Mansion and brought a day of action to the Brooklyn Bridge, shutting it down.

The drivers are demanding debt relief for medallion loans.

"The divers have a financial debt. The city has a moral debt. They need to fix this," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

Desai said the alliance's proposal calls on lenders to reduce outstanding medallion loans to $125,000 and refinance payments, with the city acting as a backstop.

"The city should go back and think about our dignity," cab driver Dorothy Leconte said.

Leconte and Alabsy are heartbroken over nine drivers killing themselves. They said they are not sure how much more drivers drowning in debt can take.

"We want them to stop these suicides to help us forgive debts so we can manage our life," Alabsy said.

The group is also calling on Congress for help, rallying outside Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's Brooklyn home to get federal relief for drivers.

Schumer released a statement Thursday saying he stands with the taxi workers and is working hard to deliver financial aid to the city.

"There are few frontline workers who put in longer hours or suffer from more severe financial challenges than our taxi drivers. I stand with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance in their urgent mission to forge a financial lifeline for their hard-pressed members to restructure medallion debt, salvage their future retirement, and have a fair chance at earning a living wage for all of their many hours behind the wheel," Schumer said. "I am fighting like hell right now to deliver robust local aid for New York City, send another round of direct payments to low- and middle-income New Yorkers, extend the pandemic unemployment assistance that has helped keep so many taxi drivers afloat, secure additional rent and mortgage relief, and more. We can -- and should -- honor the work of our taxi drivers by finding a way to make these drivers whole again."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said federal support will open the door to help the drivers.

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