City taxi drivers are calling for a raise and hundreds of them packed a virtual Zoom rally on Wednesday to be heard. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance organized angry drivers, flanked by advocates and elected officials, who said a pay bump and other worker protections were long overdue.

The group called for the city Taxi and Limousine Commission to raise ride-hailing app drivers' per-mile and per-minute pay rates, and to cap their leasing expenses in order to bring wages up to $25 an hour after expenses. On the yellow and green cab drivers’ side, the group is demanding that taxi meter rates, which haven’t gone up in a decade, be raised to achieve that same $25 hourly wage.

The demands come months after the TLC adjusted rates for for-hire ride-hailing app drivers by 5.3% to reflect the rise in the prices of goods and services. The city first set a minimum wage of $17.22 an hour in 2018.

“Since February of 2019, NYC has mandated three wage increases for Uber drivers, including a 5.3% increase in March of 2022,” Uber spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said. “[For-hire vehicle] drivers in NYC have the only minimum wage in the state with a yearly cost-of-living increase tied to the rate of inflation and now make $31.74 an hour while taxi drivers have not seen an increase since 2012.”

But according to the NYTWA, drivers who work for ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft end up walking away with a lot less money than their mandated minimum wages might suggest after factoring in fuel and maintenance expenses. In reality, the group said, the average driver still ends up making close to $17 per hour.

“Driving was once a pathway to middle class life,” said NYTWA Executive Director Bhairavi Desai. “Today, it's a one-way ticket to debt and poverty. We aim to fix that once and for all.”

The TLC touted its pay structure and said it would examine if drivers are being properly compensated.

“TLC is proud of our groundbreaking FHV driver pay rules that established a first-in-the-nation minimum pay standard for app drivers," said TLC spokesperson James DiGiovanni in an email. "As we review the taxi metered rate of fare and our FHV driver pay rules, we will ensure that our data-driven approach adequately accounts for the increased expenses faced by drivers during this period of high inflation.”

Mouhamadou Aliyu, a taxi driver for 21 years who spoke during the online event Wednesday, said the pay bump was necessary to make ends meet.

“This raise here, we desperately need it,” Aliyu said. “Because we’re going out to work, we have not even been able to even put food on the table. We are really, really working hard, not being able to bring something home.”

The NYTWA called on the City Council to enact "Just Cause" protections against “deactivations,” or firings, by Uber and Lyft, similar to those passed for fast food workers in 2020.

“Deactivation is the fancy Wall Street term for basically firing workers,” Desai said. “They do it without notice overnight, without reason, without a real right to appeal.”

Driver Tino Napo said he was in the process of upgrading to a luxury vehicle when he was suddenly “deactivated” by Uber, leaving him with no income and two cars to make payments on. He said an Uber representative told him the “deactivation” was a result of an argument with a passenger who refused to wear a mask in June 2020, and that it could not be reversed.

“When they fire me that way, I feel so bad,” Napo said. “And I can tell you, I have to say, thank God I didn't kill myself. Because when I look at my kid and my wife, I say, ‘What are you going to do?’ I was the only one providing food for my kid.”

City Councilmember Christopher Marte threw his support behind the drivers at Wednesday's virtual rally and promised to fight “deactivations” like Napo’s and for higher pay.

“Right now living costs are only going up and your wages are staying the same, and that's unreasonable for anyone who’s a car driver in any of these providers,” he said

The group said it plans to rally again in person on the steps of City Hall on August 3rd at 2 p.m.

This story has been updated with comment from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.