NYC Taxi Drivers Are Killing Themselves, and Some Blame Uber and Lyft

Competition from on-demand car services like Uber and Lyft is literally killing New York City taxi drivers, according to the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.

The group claimed that four yellow-cab drivers committed suicide in the past few months due to financial hardships caused in part by the emergence of app-based taxi services in New York.

We are "sick and tired of burying our brothers," Alliance President Bhairavi Desai told Fox Five news outside a City Hall protest where drivers had lined up four empty coffins and covered them in white flowers. Drivers in attendance shouted protest chants like “stop Uber’s greed.”

Yellow cabs in New York face stricter regulations than Uber and Lyft cars, where city regulations prevent surge pricing and the number of cabs allowed on the road.

New York City currently allows nearly 13,600 yellow cabs to operate, but there are about 61,000 cars affiliated with Uber on the road. Between 2013 and 2017, the amount of time taxi and app-based vehicles spent unoccupied increased by 81 percent in Manhattan, according to a recent study by Bruce Schaller, former deputy commissioner for traffic and planning at the New York City Department of Transportation.

The crowding has a deeper financial impact on cab drivers than a lack of fares. A taxi medallion, which allows a driver to operate his or her own cab instead of leasing from others, peaked at $1 million in 2014 but is now worth less than $200,000. Many drivers were borrowing against their medallions and relying on their resale value to pay for retirement.

GettyImages-535938786 A taxicab in New York's Times Square. Taxi drivers in New York are struggling because of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images

Desai and other taxi drivers want the city to cap the number of cars using ride-hailing apps and to establish equal fare pricing.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office issued a statement saying, “We've worked closely with the [Taxi and Limousine Commission] and City Council to reduce regulations on drivers while balancing the need to protect customers and keep city streets safe—efforts which will continue as we seek to reduce the stresses drivers face." 

However, many taxi drivers claim they’re nearing bankruptcy and are losing their dignity and morale as they watch their lifelong careers become turned into “side gigs” by the tech industry.

Some city council members are attempting to pass legislation to regulate ride-hailing apps. But when they tried in 2015, Uber launched a big ad campaign that worked to quash any potential reform. 

Meanwhile, the pressure is causing some drivers to take their own lives. On March 16th, 65-year-old Nicanor Ochisor was found dead in his Queens, New York, home. His family said that he was in financial trouble and had pegged his retirement plans on selling his medallion. In February, driver Douglas Schifter shot himself outside City Hall after writing a long Facebook statement chiding the government for its lack of taxi regulation.