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May 22, 2019

Drivers plead with taxi officials to join them in fighting congestion fee

November 28, 2018
Drivers and industry organizers testified at a Taxi & Limousine Commission hearing that there will be more suicides and economic distress once a new Manhattan congestion fee lands this January. (Mary Altaffer / AP)

Desperate drivers implored taxi officials on Wednesday to help spare them a new congestion fee.

Drivers and industry organizers testified at a Taxi & Limousine Commission hearing that there will be more suicides and economic distress once a new Manhattan congestion fee lands this January.

Eight drivers have committed suicide since 2017.

“This needs to stop. We’re just getting attacked in every way, shape or form,” Bridget Felix, a driver with apps and livery bases, said at the hearing at TLC headquarters in Lower Manhattan. “It’s inducing suicide. You want more drivers to kill themselves?”

Richard Chow, a driver whose cabbie brother Kenny killed himself this year, said the congestion fee will cause his shorter trips to dry up.

“It’s totally unfair,” Chow said. “This mean we lose more business. This means that nobody is taking the yellow cab — very expensive.”

Passengers will pay the congestion fee for any trip that touches Manhattan below 96th St., in an effort to raise money for mass transportation.

Yellow cab passengers will pay $2.50, on top of the existing 50-cent charge that goes directly to the MTA. Green outerborough taxis, meanwhile, will charge a $2.75 congestion fee, on top of the 50-cent MTA surcharge.

Uber, Lyft and other app car services will charge passengers $2.75, on top of the 8.87% sales tax levied on those trips. Riders who book pooled trips will have a smaller, 75-cent fee to pay, even if they wind up the only passenger during the entire pool trip.

Bhairavi Desai, director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, wants yellow cabs exempt from the congestion charge.

“Act with your conscience and stand with us,” Desai told the taxi commissioners. “When we’re out there in front of the governor’s office, stand with us. Ask our governor to show us mercy.”

Jim Conigliario, Jr., head of the Independent Drivers Guild, an Uber-backed drivers group, called the $2.75 fee a “sham tax” that should be replaced with a fee for delivery trucks he blames for congested Manhattan streets.

An Uber spokeswoman said that the company will work on offering affordable options for passengers who need to make Manhattan trips, like its Uber Pool service.

Meera Joshi, the TLC chair, said the agency would send Cuomo’s office the pained testimony from drivers along with information about the industry.

But she recognized her limits as the TLC chair.

“We see first hand, probably more than anybody else, the day-to-day horrors that people are going through,” Joshi said after the meeting.

“It is an extremely difficult position. Anybody who’s human would wish they could make it better. But it’s not clear that there is a simple and one-step answer to relieve some of the incredible economic burdens that people are facing.”

One of her fellow TLC commissioners expressed helplessness at the drivers’ plight.

“TLC is very well meaning, but it doesn’t address the pain that I’m hearing here today,” Commissioner Bill Aguado said during the hearing. “I don’t know what we can do or what we should do, but I do know that we’re not serving the driver, in general.”

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