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New York City's taxi drivers got a big win and many have finally been relieved of the stress of debt. Photo: J Woo/Twitter

New York City taxi hunger strike leads major debt relief

Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be forgiven after Mayor Bill de Blasio struck a deal with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

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Fifteen days after starting a hunger strike, 4,000 indebted New York City taxi drivers got the relief they’ve spent years fighting for. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 3, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio came to an agreement with their union, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), that will forgive hundreds of thousands of dollars from medallion owners’ loans.

Medallion is the label used to signify the licenses an individual must obtain to be able to operate a taxi in a municipality. 

New York City’s city’s taxi medallions used to be a way for drivers to buy, operate and profit from their own cabs, but the success of ride sharing services, like Uber and Lyft, have dramatically cut into tax industry profits in recent years.

Then, predatory lending and industry leaders driving up the medallion prices resulted in inflated loan amounts and debilitating debt for owners. The drivers in the program, 40% of whom are South Asian, owe upwards of $500,000 on average. 

Driver Mohamadou Aliyu told NBC News last month that he will never be able to pay if off, and his children won’t be able to either. 

But Wednesday’s decision means that will change.

Mayor de Blasio celebrated NYTWA’s activism and expressed his satisfaction with their agreement. 

“Taxi workers have worked tirelessly to make New York City the most vibrant city in the world, and we refuse to leave them behind,” he said after the deal was announced. 

Loans will now be reduced to a maximum of $170,000 with a city-backed guarantee, a contrast from the city’s original plan, which drivers said could have hardly made a difference. 

 “No more debt beyond our lifetime. No more risk of losing homes,” the alliance said on Twitter. 

Aliyu has now been relieved of $481,000 in debt. He told the New York Times on Tuesday, Nov. 10 that he feels like he has been reborn. 

“Look, someone had my life and now I got it back,” he said. 

Dozens of drivers participating in the hunger strike and camping outside City Hall had some noteworthy people visit them in solidarity, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and actor Kal Penn.

Supporters of the protest included Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York’s entire congressional delegation, and State Assembly member Zohran Mamdani, who took an active role in the protest and hunger strike. 

Union officials thanked the mayor on Twitter, expressing excitement about a fresh start for so many drivers whose lives were destroyed or even cut short by financial struggles. 

“You fixed a wrong that was inherited and it will save lives.  Drivers have a fighting chance now and know that you made it possible. We thank you and your whole team for your work on making this new dawn possible,” NYTWA wrote. 

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