US taxi drivers’ caravan demands a “people’s stimulus”

Dozens of taxi workers from the States of New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland traveled to Washington DC on Thursday, demanding assistance for the taxi industry and better pandemic relief plans

December 12, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
Cab drivers and organizers protest in Washington DC. Photo: BreakThrough News

Dozens of taxi drivers reached the United States’ capital, Washington DC, on Thursday, December 10, to put forward a host of demands asking for a comprehensive relief plan during the pandemic. The caravan traveled over 800 kilometers, and was organized by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) to pressure the US Congress into passing a “People’s stimulus”. The demonstration comes at a time when the US Congress and the Trump administration are negotiating a new relief plan, once the existing stimulus plan has expired.

The caravan of yellow taxis began from Manhattan in New York City. The caravan picked up taxi drivers from Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and Maryland, reaching the Capitol Hill that houses the US Congress. Among the demands put forward by the drivers included the reinstatement of the USD 600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, freezing of all evictions and foreclosures, debt forgiveness for taxi workers, and funds for the recovery of the taxi industry which has been in crisis for several years.

According to reports, taxi ridership has declined by 92% during the pandemic. The NYTWA has reported that nearly 80% of its members are facing food insecurity. The situation is compounded by the fact that most of the taxi workers are also carrying hundreds of thousands of dollars in “medallion” debt.

Medallion debts are loans workers had to take to acquire the highly expensive taxi medallion which drivers need to legally operate in a city. According to a recent report by City and State NY, an average taxi worker with a medallion in the state of New York had a debt of around USD 700,000. The NYTWA has been demanding a radical restructuring of these debts for years now.

“We came together as a national movement of drivers to bring home the message to our capital that the people across this country are in a desperate crisis,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive directory of NYTWA, at the demonstration. Desai in her address also connected the struggles of taxi workers with millions of others in the US.

She pointed out the spiraling crisis of unemployment and poverty in the country, and the possibility that tens of millions are either facing eviction and/or losing all sources of incomes and welfare support.

“People are suffering,” said Ronald Blount of Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania. “It’s not just the taxi drivers, it’s the food cart workers, it’s the hotel workers, it’s restaurant workers, it’s millions of workers throughout this country that are suffering here.”

With inputs from BreakThrough News