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Taxi Drivers Rally Against City's $65M Medallion Relief Program Outside Council Hearing

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The New York City Council's Transportation Committee held a hearing Friday to discuss the city's debt relief program for taxi drivers.

Meantime, medallion owners are protesting, saying the program falls way too short, CBS2's Kiran Dhillon reported.

For two weeks, cab drivers frustrated with the city's $65 million medallion relief program have been camping out in front of City Hall.

"We need a solution that is going to be long lasting, and that's going to take drivers out of poverty, not lock them into it," said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

The program offers $20,000 grants to help restructure medallion debt with an additional $9,000 in debt payment support. The union says it's not enough since the average medallion debt sits around $550,000.

"The drivers who every day are seeing less and less income. But when you as an owner-driver have a debt on top of that, you're locked in," Desai said. "It's a prison sentence to poverty."

Medallion owners are calling on the city and lenders to reduce outstanding loans to $145,000 with the city acting as a backstop.

The city's Taxi and Limousine Commission said its program has already restructured 90 medallion loans equaling $14 million in debt forgiveness with more than a thousand loans in the pipeline.

"Solving this debt crisis is the single most important issue that we must resolve. Doing so will unlock our ability to take aggressive action to increase economic opportunity and quality of life for medallion owners," said TLC Commissioner Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk at the hearing.

Still, many taxi drivers owe hundreds of thousands of dollars on their medallions. They said COVID has only made things worse.

"Income dropped, and we were under the poverty line," said Qudratullah Saverry. "Unemployment was the only way that we survived."

"No savings at all. Some months, you have to pay out of pocket," said Wain Chin from Brooklyn.

The union said members will be protesting outside City Hall 24/7 until they see the relief they want.

The Transportation Committee has asked City Hall and the City Council to meet with stakeholders.

CBS2's Kiran Dhillon contributed to this report.

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