When Augustine Tang’s father passed away six years ago, he wasn’t sure whether or not he would take back the New York Taxi locket his father had owned since the 1980s. But Tang ultimately decided to keep the locket. of his father and to become a taxi driver himself. “Honestly, I just thought it was the right thing,” Tang reminded City & State on Tuesday. “I was like, ‘What am I, too good to drive a cab? I was like, ‘I’ll try to make this work.’ But Tang’s decision to take over his father’s legacy came at a heavy price. Tang’s father owed about $ 530,000 on his locket, a debt Tang inherited and has since been able to repay at $ 490,000. An unknown number of locket owners in New York have also been grappling with massive debts following the collapse in the value of the locket over the past decade. Taxi medallions grant the exclusive right to operate taxis in New York City, and although they were valued at over $ 1 million in 2014, their value has dropped to a current average of around $ 117,000. .

Since 2019, when the New York Times reported on the artificial inflation of medallion prices by taxi industry executives and the toll reckless lending has taken on a largely immigrant workforce , New York City and state leaders weighed options to help locket owners get out of debt. Earlier this year, New York City announced a $ 65 million taxi assistance fund that will provide interest-free loans of up to $ 29,000 to amortize them, funded by federal stimulus money. . So far, the city has secured nearly $ 700,000 in debt relief for three drivers whose loans have been restructured under the program. Negotiations with lenders and other medallion owners are underway. In a press release, the city said “many” locket owners would see more than $ 200,000 in debt relief and monthly payments reduced to $ 1,500 or less. But Tang and other locket owners are calling for a more aggressive debt relief plan – a plan backed by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance that would make the city serve as a loan safety net to incent lenders. to restructure them to $ 145,000, with monthly payments of no more than $ 800.

Protesting outside City Hall, Tang told City & State about his calls and those of other medallion owners for more debt relief and how the drivers bonded during the crisis. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you decide to take back your father’s taxi locket after his death?

My father passed away six years ago and I have been a driver-owner for about five years. He owned the locket and owed approximately $ 530,000 on it. I had to make the decision to take the locket back and also take care of his mom and my grandmother. So I ended up coming back with them, and I wanted to keep his legacy, and I kept the locket.

You and other medallion owners are protesting outside City Hall 24/7, calling for a more aggressive debt relief plan for the city, especially the one proposed by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance which would restructure the loans to $ 145,000. How are things going so far?

It’s our third day here. I’ve been here literally 48 hours. I didn’t even come home to take a shower. But you lead by example, don’t you? I will stay here as long as possible. I just want to make sure the city understands that we’ll be camping here for as long as it takes.

And what will it take? Is it the city that engages in a discussion on the debt relief plan that you are proposing? A compromise between this plan and the current one?

There is no compromise. The Taxi Workers Alliance plan is the bare minimum. We can’t have a life after that. These men and women are 65, 70, 75 – we’ve been on this journey for three, four years, just trying to fight for our lives. The city doesn’t see it that way. We’re not even asking for much, and it’s not like the city can’t do it.

Many taxi drivers heavily in debt have committed suicide in recent years, and you knew Yu Mein “Kenny” Chow, a locket owner who committed suicide in 2018. How did you know Kenny?

When I started driving, I didn’t know anything about taxis. I literally threw myself into an industry where I didn’t have any friends. I ended up walking into that taxi rank in Chinatown, and buying coffee there. I met Kenny there. We were talking about the taxi industry, having a little coffee, talking about our loans. I found out that he also owned a locket and owed $ 700,000. It was impossible to make ends meet, to face their bills. When I found out he had committed suicide, I was incredibly shocked. I just couldn’t believe it.

When did you first start organizing with the New York Taxi Workers Alliance?

I met the New York Taxi Workers Alliance at (Chow’s) vigil, and since then I’ve just tried to help. For many of us, we have become like a real family where we just look out for each other. This fight, we didn’t really want it to last that long.

Considering how long this fight has been and how far it has come to the city, even to put in place its current relief plan, do you think you will be successful in pushing forward the debt relief plan that you? want to see?

We have been doing this for a very long time. We have seen people come in and out saying, “Oh, we support you”. But nothing happened. We are used to losing. But we must keep hope. What else do these guys have? We just want our lives back.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call National lifeline for suicide prevention at 1-800-273-8255. Those in New York who have mental health issues can contact NYC good.