Six Cab Drivers Commit Suicide From ‘Financial Despair’

Six drivers in the New York City taxi industry have committed suicide since last December, driven by what New York Taxi Workers Alliance head Bhairavi Desai called “financial despair” at a protest outside City Hall June 18. 

The latest was longtime yellow-cab driver Abdul Saleh, 59, who hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment June 15. He had been “coming up short every week” on his weekly payments to lease a cab, NYTWA organizer Biju Mathew told LaborPress. The others were two yellow-cab owner-operators who owed hundreds of thousands of dollars on their medallions, two livery-cab drivers, and a black-car driver. 

Drivers’ incomes have dropped in all sectors of the industry since the arrival of app-based services such as Uber and Lyft. In 2011, there were about 50,000 yellow, black, and livery cabs in the city, according to city Taxi and Limousine Commission figures. Today, there are 130,000 for-hire vehicles, about 70,000 affiliated with Uber. 

NYTWA is demanding that the City Council enact a cap on the number of for-hire vehicles the city licenses, in order to reduce the competition to a level where drivers would have a better chance of making a living. 

Yellow-cab drivers, Mathew says, now typically make less than $100 for a 12-hour shift—what they would have taken home on a good weeknight in the 1980s—even on Friday and Saturday nights, which once could provide half their weekly income. Because they are independent contractors, they are not covered by minimum-wage laws. 

“I make the same money I used to make in 1989,” Bigu Haider, 52, who drove a yellow cab for 22 years before switching to a black cab in 2011, said at the June 18 rally. “But back then I had 300-dollar rent. I pay almost $2,000 now. You tell me what’s changed.”