The COVID-19 crisis has decimated New York City's for-hire vehicle workforce, hitting the already-ailing yellow taxi industry particularly hard, according to a report released by the Taxi and Limousine Commission on Wednesday.
Between March and June, the number of working drivers plummeted from 108,880 to 30,675, a drop of more than 70 percent, the city regulator found. Ridership was also down more than 80 percent during the peak of the pandemic — in line with declines seen on subways and ferries.
As those riders have started to slowly bounce back in recent months, most of that rebound has focused on “high volume for-hire services,” a category that includes Uber, Lyft and other app-based companies.
According to the TLC's figures, there were about one third as many daily trips for the high volume for-hire services in June than there were in March.
By comparison, daily trips for yellow taxis dropped by a factor of ten — from 200,000 trips in February to 18,325 trips in June.
While the app-based drivers still working have seen their weekly earnings return to pre-pandemic levels, both yellow and green cab drivers are earning significantly less than they were in March.
As part of a stopgap measure, early in the crisis the de Blasio administration created a free food distribution program that enlisted yellow, livery and for-hire drivers. The report states that between March 15th and June 30th, TLC-licensed drivers earned over 24 million dollars through those deliveries. As of June 30th, almost 10,000 drivers were enrolled.
On Thursday, the commission tweeted updated figures:
The coronavirus crisis hit at a time when New York City's taxi industry was already on the brink of collapse, after years of predatory business practices — along with the rise of Uber and Lyft — saddled taxi medallion owners with exploding debt. According to the city, the average outstanding loan on a medallion is $500,000.
A wide-ranging Times investigation found that under-regulated industry lenders created a financial bubble for medallion owners, while top city officials tasked with regulating loans looked the other way.
Earlier this year, a panel whose members were appointed by the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed the creation of a public-private fund that could pay as much as $600 million to bail out debt-ridden taxi drivers.
Asked about the report on Thursday, de Blasio said that New York City's current fiscal reality rendered the idea of a driver bailout unfeasible.
"We don't have the resources now," the mayor said. "Any driver who needs help, the TLC is trying to find ways to help, person by person."