Cabbies Call Out Firm Behind Repo Notes as Debt Vote Delayed Over Foul-Mouthed TLC Chair
Dozens of taxi medallion owners protested Thursday in front of the Manhattan offices of Vedder Price.
Cabbies who have been walloped by taxi-medallion debt pushed loudly Thursday for an end to encounters with repo men and foreclosures on their once-prized assets.
Banging on drums and chanting “We want action! We want justice!” dozens of medallion owners protested in front of the Midtown offices of Vedder Price, a law firm that has been sending repossession notices on behalf of OSK, a Minnesota-based lender.
“Back off the drivers! Leave us alone!” Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, yelled into a bullhorn. “Let drivers live and support the city’s guaranteed plan!”
The protest came days before what was supposed to be a Monday vote by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to begin the next phase of the city’s plan to restructure loans and provide financial aid for owners of the expensive, physical permits yellow cabs must display on their hoods to work in the city.
The Taxi Workers Alliance says OSK has been reluctant to join the debt-relief deal.
“It works on every lender and they are not participating in that,” said Sunil Kaushik, 48, a medallion owner since 2009 whose loan is with OSK.
The TLC vote on the plan was postponed to an unspecified date after Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk, the chair and commissioner, resigned abruptly Wednesday in the wake of a New York Post story detailing a lawsuit accusing her of fostering a hostile work environment at the agency and berating employees.
“I will f–king come for you,” Jarmoszuk reportedly said during a virtual staffing meeting.
In an email to THE CITY on Friday morning, the former commissioner said she was “proud to lead an agency full of dedicated employees who want to effect positive change — both within the agency and on the industry.”
“I pushed my team as hard as I pushed myself and I will be the first to admit that I should have found a more constructive way to express my expectations to them during the video call,” Jarmoszuk wrote. “I was wrong and I am sorry.”
The delay slows the rollout of a November 2021 agreement under which Marblegate Asset Management — the private equity firm that is the largest holder of medallion loans — will restructure loans to a maximum of $200,000.
Still Getting Hit
THE CITY reported last month that more than 250 taxi medallions have been foreclosed on in the months since City Hall agreed to cap medallion debts at $170,000 after an initial $65 million medallion owner relief program.
“They have been repossessing medallions, they have been chasing our members on highways and on the streets of Manhattan into Queens with their repo man trying to pull drivers over to take the medallion shield,” Desai said.
TLC figures show there were 6,653 yellow taxis on the road in January — just 49% of the 13,587 medallion vehicles. An analysis by THE CITY of TLC data shows the recovery for yellow taxis in the wake of a pandemic-driven collapse has been slower than among for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft.
While the ride-hailing apps have recovered 86% of their pre-pandemic vehicle count, yellow taxis are at 58%.
The commission’s data has not yet been updated to reflect the number of foreclosures in February, when owner Mohammed Shahidullah said he had his medallion, meter and TLC license plates repossessed as he paid for gas at a Queens service station.
“After that, I couldn’t work,” said Shahidullah, 65, a medallion owner whose loan is with OSK. “The car is in my driveway. Nothing, I couldn’t put it in the street.”
Wain Chin, a medallion owner for nearly 20 years, said he agreed to a temporary $300-a-week payment plan with OSK to avoid foreclosure.
“The thing is, that in the current economic conditions, we cannot survive,” said Chin, 54, who returned to the road in September. “We need to restructure the loan, like the rest of the banks.”
OSK, which has about 400 medallions, did not respond to requests for comment from THE CITY, nor did a spokesperson for Vedder Price.
A spokesperson for Mayor Eric Adams said the TLC is encouraging all lenders to participate in the relief program to the degree that they have borrowers in need.
“The goal is to resolve as much debt for distressed owner-drivers as possible,” said the spokesperson.
But after many taxi medallion owners hailed the November deal as a lifeline to a long-struggling industry, others now remain skittish about possible foreclosures.
The widow of a medallion owner who died of COVID in April 2020 said she received a letter early this year informing her that the medallion will be sold “at a private sale on or after January 26.”
The woman, who did not want to be identified by name, said notification of the sale came as a jolt after the euphoria of late last year when the debt plan was announced.
‘They know this deal, they know they could get into it,” she told THE CITY. “But they’re trying to squeeze these medallion owners before they jump into the deal.”