Lowe was standing next to his car Friday, hoping someone would get off a Metro-North train from the suburbs and come down the steps in need of his services. So were several other drivers originally from Gambia, Burkino Faso, Ghana and other African lands.
This was their office: garbage cans overflowing with trash; litter all along the sidewalks; a homeless man face down on a mattress, oblivious to the filth and noise around him; a woman trudging by with large placards promoting a local pawn shop.
“We pay cash for jewelry,” the sign said.
Lowe manages to put food on his table, but it’s a struggle. On a good day, after filling the tank with gas, Lowe goes home to a South Bronx housing project with $100 in his pocket. He works seven days a week. He has never taken the family on vacation.
“I can’t afford to take off,” he said.
His monthly car and insurance payments total $1,000, he said. The rent on his three-bedroom apartment is $900 a month. He has seven kids — six of whom are sets of twins.
Yellow taxis have long ignored much of the city, so the Bloomberg administration created a new class of livery cars for people like Lowe to operate in northern Manhattan and the boroughs, except the airports. These green cabs can pick up passengers on the street just like yellow cabs without the risk of hefty fines.
But it’s an opportunity that seems to be out of reach for many drivers. The permit costs $1,500. Drivers also have to pay for the paint job, dashboard meters and other equipment like credit-card readers and back seat video monitors. It adds up to about $5,000.
“To be honest with you, I can’t save anything now,” Lowe said. “I’m always behind on everything.”
I asked eight other drivers if they were going to get a street-hail permit. They all said no.
Credit and debit-card readers don’t make sense, the drivers said. Many of their customers are so poor they don’t have credit cards or even bank accounts. They also envisioned problems with riders who are used to paying certain amounts for familiar trips, or negotiating an acceptable price with the livery car driver. If they go green, the meter will dictate the price — and it will be higher when there is traffic, the drivers said.
“There will be arguments and fights,” one driver said. “Or they will just refuse to pay and run away.”
The Taxi and Limousine Commission has sold about 2,400 street-hail permits since June when the state’s highest court upheld the legality of the plan. TLC officials say the pace of equipment installations and permit approvals will pick up.
There are only 120 green cabs on the road right now, but more are coming, the agency promises. Maybe — but drivers like Lowe and his colleagues at 125th and Park won’t be driving them.
[NY Daily News Report]