Another yellow cab driver facing "economic devastation" has taken his own life, marking the fifth apparent suicide of a professional driver in as many months, according to the Taxi Workers Alliance.
On Saturday, a body pulled from the East River was identified as Yu Mein "Kenny" Chow, the taxi driver who had been missing since May 11th. Relatives had told the TWA that Chow's financial struggles had left him "losing weight, sleeping less, talking about increasing desperation. His wife was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in October and he had been worried about paying for healthcare and losing their home as he struggled to make payments on his medallion and as his income from driving dwindled."
"We are in mourning today," Kenny's brother Richard Chow said on Saturday, according the Daily News. "My brother lost hope as many other medallion owners looking for justice and fairness have."
The NYC Medical Examiner's office has not yet announced the cause of death.
Chow reportedly owed $700,000 on his taxi medallion, which he purchased with loans in 2011, when the tin licenses were at their most expensive. Since then, the value of the medallions have plunged dramatically, as hundreds of thousands of Ubers and other ride-hail companies have flooded the streets of New York, while successfully avoiding regulation from the city's elected officials.
Last week, Chow's brother and daughter, along with TWA leaders and other drivers, rallied at the Upper East Side corner where Chow's abandoned vehicle was found weeks earlier. "He's working so hard. He's working seven days a week," said Richard Chow, who is also a medallion owner-driver, and is $400,000 in debt. "I hope my brother comes home safely."
Someone asks how many of the assembled cab drivers have financial hardship. Everyone raises their hands. “You should be asking how many of us are close to suicide” says one driver
— Felipe De La Hoz 📰 (@FelipeDLH) May 22, 2018
The spate of suicides has sparked protest and legislative demands from drivers throughout the city, and forced some elected officials to take up the issue of ride-hail regulation. A newly-formed City Council Committee on For-Hire Vehicles is currently considering seven bills aimed at curbing the ride-hailing services. Those include a long-stalled proposal to place a one-year cap on for-hire vehicle licenses, and a package of regulations proposed by Committee Chair Ruben Diaz Sr., which would create restrictions on the companies’ bases, a prohibition on drivers working for more than one app-based service, and a $2,000 yearly license fee for all app-based vehicles.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is also once again signaling support for some measure of regulation, saying on a recent Brian Lehrer appearance, "I think the caps are the kind of thing we need to talk about again because this situation has gotten worse since then, both in terms of the pressure that has been put on the medallion owners and everyday taxi drivers."
A GoFundMe campaign has been created for Chow's family. On Tuesday afternoon, drivers will rally once again outside City Hall "to demand that the City Council act ASAP on our demands to stop the drivers' crisis."
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.