The “congestion pricing” surcharge on all Big Apple taxi rides that begins in January will lead to even more cabdriver suicides, drivers and activists warned at a City Council hearing Monday.
“This year, there have been eight suicides, and next year, with the $2.50 on our backs, there will be more than 10,” taxi driver Nicolae Hent predicted.
Hent was the best friend of Nicanor Ochisor, who hanged himself in his garage in April — one of eight for-hire drivers who committed suicide in the past year over a loss of business and plummeting medallion prices.
The state passed a truncated congestion pricing plan earlier this year that created a surcharge for all for-hire rides. It will cost an extra $2.50 for taxis, $2.75 for Uber, Lyft or other black cars and 75 cents for ride-shares.
Congestion-pricing advocates had hoped that private vehicles would also be subject to fees, but the state Legislature didn’t pass that version. They’re still banking on it happening in 2019.
The surcharge — on top of the 80-cent tax on each yellow cab ride and regular sales tax on ride shares — will keep people from hiring cars and will further chip away at the finances of struggling drivers, say industry advocates.
“I am once again mystified as to why my own government, in this case New York state, would seek to make what is already a horrific situation even worse,” said taxi medallion owner Carolyn Protz.
“After eight suicides, it’s hard to believe . . . they are even considering a new burden on the industry.”
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance wants the state to exempt yellow cabs from congestion pricing.
“The City Council and mayor must step in and defend yellow cab drivers who are already facing unprecedented devastation and could lose as much as $15,000 in income if they are not exempted from congestion pricing,” said executive director Bhairavi Desai.
“Congestion pricing on the backs of New York City’s struggling drivers would be one more case of shamelessly stealing from the poor, from people who have nothing left to give.”
Taxi advocates also railed against the lack of monitoring technology in black cars. Uber and Lyft will be required to self-report their trip data to the TLC.
Councilman Ruben Diaz Sr., who heads up the new For-Hire Vehicle committee, said he is looking into whether the city has any power to stop congestion pricing.
“It is abusive for the drivers. People are killing themselves and the state is contributing,” he said. “The state should be helping them, not putting more pressure on them.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said it will monitor how the congestion pricing plan works.
“Next year, we will continue to work with the Legislature to evaluate this surcharge and pass comprehensive congestion pricing once and for all,” said Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens.