Kat Aaron is an Associate Producer for WNYC, where she is part of Transportation Nation, a public radio reporting project that combines the work of multiple newsrooms to provide coverage of how we build, rebuild and get around the nation.
Fund for Disabled Taxi Drivers Hits Legal Setback
Monday, April 14, 2014 - 02:00 PM
A disability fund for taxi workers has an uncertain future after a judge’s ruling Friday.
Every time a rider pays with a credit card, six cents was dedicated to the fund, pennies that have added up to $1.4 million since October. But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Margaret A. Chan found that the Taxi and Limousine Commission lacks the authority to deduct the money, and struck down the fee.
The fund was intended both to provide short-term benefits to disabled drivers, and to help all drivers sign up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. Taxi workers are independent contractors, and do not have access to employer-provided benefits. The Taxi Workers Alliance was awarded a contract to administer the fund in September.
“If TLC were concerned about a taxi driver’s health affecting the driver and the public at large, it might better serve both if the drivers were to go for an annual health check-up, rather than deduct six cents from every fare to help drivers with choosing an insurance in the hopes that they will seek medical care,” Chan wrote in her ruling. She found that the so-called “Fare Reduction Rules” are “arbitrary and capricious, and without a rational basis.”
“I don’t understand how telling drivers to get an annual checkup keeps drivers whole,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the Taxi Workers Alliance. The nature of taxi work creates unique, on-going healthcare problems, Desai said. Kidney failure is common among drivers, for example, because they lack access to bathrooms. Drivers who miss work for dialysis or to recover from injuries have no financial support, she noted.
The night before the ruling, Desai said she talked to seven drivers who all need temporary disability aid.
“What do we tell people? ‘Okay, you gave 15 years of your life, 10 years of your life, five years of your life to this grueling job? Well, too bad,’” she said. “It’s just really devastating, and really shocking.”
The Taxi Workers Alliance is urging the city to appeal.
“While we have only just received and are in the process of reviewing this decision, we want to reiterate our ongoing commitment to protecting the health and well being of New York City’s dedicated taxi drivers,” TLC spokesman Allan Fromberg said in a statement Friday. The city’s Law Department is also reviewing the ruling.
Chan did not award monetary damages to drivers, leaving in limbo the $1.4 million collected so far.
Read Chan's ruling in full below.