Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Inherent Loneliness Of Cab Driving---NYC Yellow Cab Owner Hangs Himself

This past week a veteran New York City medallion owner and driver, Nicanor Ochisol, was found hanging from a rafter in his garage in Queens, having killed himself in a fit of suicidal despair.  Upset with declining business and a medallion once worth one million dollars but now down to $180,000, Ochisol had been telling friends for weeks that he might kill himself, afraid that he would lose his house because he and his wife, who also drove the cab, had their home mortgage financially tied to the medallion's valuation, which as noted, had lost over 80 percent of its resell potential.  And it wasn't like it was Ochisol's imagination that business was bad, statistically, daily NYC fares  have plummeted from a daily 2014 high of 470,000 to the new low of 175,000-250,000 fares available to 13, 587 Yellow Cabs.  If you divide 200,000 fares by just over 13,000 cabs you get a figure of about 14 fares per cab which equals starvation wages for any American cabbie.

Making it worse, declining business meant that his plan to finance his retirement by leasing the medallion for $3000. monthly was no longer feasible, knowing at most he would fetch $1400. instead, again taking another unacceptable loss.  That he felt death was his only option says much concerning the average taxi mind because nonstop misery is our persistent reality due to the daily hell the urban cabbie knows all too well.  Even when money is rolling in, traffic and deranged passengers and long hours plus indigestion and fatigue is wearing, all adding to an unpleasantness penetrating deeply to the soul, your entire being a primal screen piercing all existence.

When the money is good, the pain is bearable but when it isn't, everything becomes stupid and you end up telling yourself you are an idiot for wasting your breath for little to nothing in return.  And it is hard to argue the point as you wait one, two, three hours for the next fare.  Suddenly you are crazy and life as you once knew it is now worthless.

And this was Ochisol's prevalent reality, trapped by overwhelming debt and diminishing business, his deep depression telling him there was no escape save death because the cab driver faces his/her life minus any external support, the cabbie completely and utterly on their own.  If that cabbie idling next to you looks crazy, this is in part the reason why.

This inherent independence and isolation holds advantages but those quickly vanish when your revenue stream is gone, leaving you upon your own island surrounded by an angry financial sea.  Just like the NYC cabbies, we in Seattle also question whether we can survive the Uber/Lyft onslaught.  Burdened by regulation and unfair competition we don't understand how we can survive.  When we tell the City of Seattle and King County licensing administrators none of this no longer makes sense, they respond by adding 55 medallions we don't need or can support.  This adds to our inescapable loneliness, to the feeling that no one understands or cares.  Maybe if one of our number commits suicide it might get their attention but I am not looking for any volunteers because I doubt even that would alter an equation that doesn't add up, allowing Uber and Lyft to continually flood a finite passenger market.  As in NYC, our number of daily fares are down.  Like cab owners in NYC and elsewhere, we all wonder how long this process can continue.

And since Seattle has over 57,000 Uber and Lyft drivers, joining their swelled ranks is certainly not the answer.  The only answer that makes sense is to reduce the number of operators.  And how do you do that?   Place a moratorium of at least one year upon all new for-hire licensees.  Let natural attrition govern the market.  After one year, do a study determining just how much local independent operators are making.  If folks are still working to make little to nothing then extend the moratorium for another year and conduct yet another determinative study.

By doing this, the City of Seattle and King County will help resolve a problem of their making because they are the ones who created this mess and no one else.  Again, does anyone in their bureaucratic towers know the meaning of accountability?  I am sure a quick glance at their Merriam- Webster will assist in the answer.  It can't be that hard, can it?

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