Tuesday, February 06, 2018

New York Times: A Driver’s Suicide Reveals the Dark Side of the Gig Economy


Last spring, Bhairavi Desai, a middle-aged woman without a driver’s license and thus an unlikely leader for thousands of mostly male drivers in the world’s largest market for hired vehicles, delivered emotional testimony in front of New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission about the mounting existential difficulties in her field.

The executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Ms. Desai had been a labor activist for 21 years but she had never seen anything like the despair she was witnessing now — the bankruptcies, foreclosures and eviction notices plaguing drivers who were calling her with questions about how to navigate homelessness and paralyzing depression.

“Half my heart is just crushed,’’ she said, “and the other half is on fire.”

The economic hardship that Uber and its competitors had inflicted on conventional drivers in New York and London and other cities had become overwhelming. For decades there had been no more than approximately 12,000 to 13,000 taxis in New York but now there were myriad new ways to avoid public transportation, in some cases with ride-hailing services like Via that charged little more than $5 to travel in Manhattan. In 2013, there were 47,000 for-hire vehicles in the city. Now there were more than 100,000, approximately two-thirds of them affiliated with Uber.

While Uber has sold that “disruption” as positive for riders, for many taxi workers, it has been devastating. Between 2013 and 2016, the gross annual bookings of full-time yellow-taxi drivers in New York, working during the day when fares are typically highest, fell from $88,000 a year to just over $69,000. Medallions, which grant the right to operate a taxi in New York City, were now depreciating assets and drivers who had borrowed money to pay for them, once a sound investment strategy, were deeply in debt. Ms. Desai was routinely seeing grown men cry and she had become increasingly concerned about the possibility that they would begin taking their lives.

On Monday morning, Doug Schifter, a livery driver in his early 60s, killed himself with a shotgun in front of City Hall in Lower Manhattan, having written a lengthy Facebook post several hours earlier laying out the structural cruelties that had left him in such dire circumstance. He was now sometimes forced to work more than 100 hours a week to survive he said; when he had started out in the 1980s a 40-hour week was fairly typical. He blamed politicians — mayors Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — and their acquiescence to the rich for permitting so many cars to flood the streets. He blamed the Taxi Commission for the fines and hassles it imposed.

He had lost his health insurance and accrued credit card debt and he would no longer work for “chump change,’’ preferring, he said, to die in the hope that his sacrifice would draw attention to what drivers, too often unable to feed their families now, were enduring. He had forecast all of this doom in columns he had written for a trade publication called Black Car News, he wrote, but few had listened to him.

Implicit in his testament was the anger he felt over the de-professionalization of his life’s work. Mr. Schifter had driven more than five million miles throughout his tenure, through five hurricanes and 50 snowstorms. He had chauffeured celebrities and worn a suit. He was not driving a car to supplement the income he was getting from his crepe business and he was not trying to make a little extra money for massage. He was not a participant in the gig economy; he was a casualty of it.

For at least a century, the suicide as spectacle, prompted by a reversal of fortune, has typically been the practice of the wealthy. In the months after Wall Street’s crash in 1929, four people threw themselves out windows in New York (leading to the folklore that there had been many, many more such deaths). Decades later, Bernie Madoff’s son Mark hanged himself from a dog leash in his SoHo apartment. In 2016, Sanjay Valvani, a hedge fund manager accused of insider trading, slashed his throat in the bedroom of his Brooklyn townhouse, to much sensation in the tabloid and financial press. Poverty too often kills you without making you try.

For taxi drivers staring down an even bleaker future of driverless cars at a moment when Washington considers a weekly paycheck bump of $1.50 an occasion to break out the layer cake, it is hard to see where the metaphoric Prozac will come from.

The problems facing the city’s taxi drivers have become so bad, Ms. Desai said, that even on New Year’s Eve many complained that they roamed around unable to pick up fares. At about that time she had received a call from a woman who runs a community radio station in the Bronx, with an audience made up mostly of Dominican livery drivers. Two drivers that the host knew of had killed themselves and other drivers were on the show talking about the isolation and fear they saw all around them.

In the days preceding his death, Mr. Schifter wrote about his decreasing faith in our politics and about his commitments to his spiritual life. “Forget the cliché you only live once it is not true,” he said in a Facebook post. “The clues are all about you if you take the time to seek them.”

Copyright 2018 The New York Times Company.  All rights reserved.

Taxi & Limousine Commission (TLC) Medallion Sales Data from January 2018


Provided below is sales data from the sale of 46 unrestricted taxi medallions as reported by the TLC for January 2018, which includes 34 medallions sold in a bankruptcy auction. The estate sales for $245,000, $176,000 and $170,000 may be too low a value because these sales reflect a sale by the estate of a taxi medallion owner who died, and those “desperate sellers” are selling for tax purposes or to quickly dispose of a depreciating asset.  Factoring out the foreclosure and estate sales, the fair market value of a medallion based on January sales data appears to be approximately $186,000 based on the 34 medallions sold at the bankruptcy auction.  Auction sales with a bidding process often reflect fair market value.  Medallion owners with “underwater” medallions (where the loan balance exceeds the value of the medallion) should contact Jim Shenwick to discuss their options under the law.
Price
Type of Sale
Number of Medallions
$380,000

2
$380,000

2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$372,000
Bankruptcy
2
$250,000

1
$250,000

1
$245,000
Estate
1
$185,000

1
$181,000

1
$176,000
Estate
1
$170,000
Foreclosure
1
$170,000
Estate
1
$170,000

1

Monday, February 05, 2018

New York Post: Livery driver blamed de Blasio for his financial ruin before City Hall suicide

A 61-year-old livery driver posted on Facebook early Monday that city and state politicians were to blame for his financial ruin — then pulled up to the gates of City Hall and shot himself dead with a shotgun, authorities said.

The driver, identified by sources as Douglas Schifter, blamed Mayor de Blasio and Gov. Cuomo as well as former Mayor Bloomberg for making it impossible for him to earn a living behind the wheel because of an increasing number of taxis and black cars in the city, and because of over-regulation of his industry.
“Now the politicians have flooded the streets with unlimited cars and some 3,000 new ones every month still coming. There is not enough work for everybody that pays a living,” Schifter posted around 4:30 a.m.

“This is SLAVERY NOW. … I don’t know how else to try to make a difference other than a public display of a most private affair.”

Schifter then drove a black Nissan Altima that he rented in Pennsylvania to the front, east gate of City Hall near Spruce Street and Park Row, stopped the car and shot himself with a shotgun around 7:10 a.m., police said.

He was pronounced dead at the scene, an FDNY spokesman said. Police sources said he was from Pennsylvania.

“I have no more health insurance and am not enjoying good health,” Schifter wrote in his online manifesto. “No more vehicle as my GM engine failed twice this year as well as the transmission. No more income to pay bills and maxed out credit cards I cannot pay. I will lose my house and everything else. I see no point to continue trying.”

Schifter – who wrote that he worked 100-120 consecutive hours almost every week for more than 14 years — said in his lengthy suicide note that de Blasio, Cuomo and Bloomberg “each had their part in destroying a once thriving industry.”

“There are over 100,000 of us suffering daily now. It is the new slavery. The politicians flooded the streets with Black Cars and Taxis,” he wrote.

“I warned of the impending collapse of the yellow medallions more than a year before it happened. No one stopped it. That old law was working and it was there to prevent exactly what Cuomo Allowed,” he continued. “The control of the numbers of taxi medallions was never supposed to return to the Mayor.”

Schifter blamed Bloomberg for “appealing to Albany to remove the law limiting taxis in NYC.”
“It was in place for over one hundred years and worked! It was there for a reason. It took away control from local politicians. It limited competition so in bad times everyone still made a good living,” he wrote.

“Now there are too many feeding off the same pie and there is not enough for every one,” he said, adding that Bloomberg “added 18,000 unneeded green cabs.”

“That took more business away from Black and Yellow Cabs. He mandated a freeze on processing replacement Black Cars just as I had to replace mine,” Schifter wrote, explaining that he had to buy and insure his car before he could register it.

“TLC would not process my application because they wanted their $75 inspection fee for a brand new car out of the showroom in addition to the state inspection already performed,” he said.

“That cost between $20,000 and $30,000 and was a serious loss,” he said.

The driver also said de Blasio and Cuomo have shown a “bias” toward Uber.

“De Blasio stopped a traffic study on the impact of Uber. That would have revealed the true traffic impact of so many cars and shown the need to freeze car levels,” Schifter said.

“Cuomo allowed the removal of controls and allowed unlimited cars on the road. Cuomo also placed State Troopers in NYC to patrol and issue moving violations. This never happened before in my lifetime. He has turned the city into a police state.”

The disconsolate driver also took aim at the “treasonous Republicans.”

“I hope with the public sacrifice I make now that some attention to the plight of the drivers and the people will be done to save them and it will have not have been in vain and also that we must stop what is happening to Government while we still have one we can vote out,” Schifter said.

“There is no choice. America is under attack by Russia. They do not need weapons. They bought their influence.”

Copyright 2018 NYP Holdings, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

We're extensively quoted in this Zing! by Quicken Loans blog post

On the Verge of Bankruptcy?  Here Are Your Options

By Bridget Hillyer

In the world of multiple credit cards, payday loans and escalating education costs, debt is a problem many of us face. If your situation becomes overwhelming, it can be tempting to think of bankruptcy as your only available option. Before you make that big step, make sure you understand exactly what it will mean for you and what your other options are.

What Is Bankruptcy?

According to James Shenwick, an experienced personal and business bankruptcy attorney from Manhattan, bankruptcy is “when your liabilities exceed your assets or you have insufficient cash flow to service or pay your debt.” To put that more simply, it’s when you don’t have enough money to pay off your bills.

Filing for bankruptcy is when an individual submits their case to the United States Bankruptcy Court in an effort to be declared insolvent. Depending on the individual’s specific situation, they’ll file under a specific chapter of the bankruptcy code, the two most common being Chapter 13 and Chapter 7. Whichever you choose, declaring bankruptcy is a serious decision that should be avoided if at all possible.

How Will Declaring Bankruptcy Affect Me?

Although no two situations are the same, bankruptcy comes with a number of potential consequences that anyone considering it should be aware of. The filing itself will stay on your credit report for six to seven years, impacting your ability to get credit for years to come. “Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings more negatively affect an individual’s credit report than chapter 13,” says Shenwick. You may also be required to surrender some of your personal property, depending on which bankruptcy chapter you qualify for. Co-signers for any of your debt may also be required to take sole responsibility for it, and not all debt can be wiped completely free. It will be under the discretion of the court to decide if debt like student loans will qualify. It’s also not free to file, with each chapter requiring a different fee. If you choose to seek legal help to navigate the process, that will also cost you.

How Can I Avoid Bankruptcy?

Considering the difficulties associated with declaring bankruptcy, it’s no wonder that people want to avoid it. If your bills have begun to pile up, here are seven steps to help you get yourself back on track and avoid bankruptcy.

Cut Out Unnecessary Expenses

With bankruptcy looming, you will need to make a number of serious life changes to get yourself out of debt. The first is to cut any expenses that aren’t absolutely necessary. Gym memberships, streaming services, extra data in your phone plan, magazine subscriptions and eating out can all go. While this may seem intense, remember that it’s only intended to be a temporary measure. Bare-bones living for a few months to a year, if it helps get you out of debt, will likely be worth it in the end.

See What You Can Sell

That collection of movies and books you haven’t touched in years? Throw them on eBay or have a yard sale. Extra pieces of furniture and collectibles are also great for a quick cash turnaround. Fashion items, such as purses, brand-name sneakers and sunglasses, will earn you some good money if they’re in good enough condition. The website StockX is completely devoted to helping individuals sell their luxury purses, watches and sneakers, so take a look through your own inventory to see what you have to sell. If you don’t need it and you think you could get some money for it, give it a try. Every bit helps.

Get a Second Job

If your current paycheck isn’t enough to cover your bills, then you’ll need to consider taking on a second job. Even if you only have enough time for something on the weekend, like dog walking or working at a coffee shop, the added income will help you pay down that debt faster. If you have a free room in your home, you could take on a roommate, or you could use your car to make money by signing up to be driver for Lyft or Uber. You’ll be busy in the short term, but getting out of debt is worthwhile.

Switch to Cash

Budgeting your income will be a major part of overcoming your debt, so find a method that works for you. If credit cards are part of the reason you’re now having issues, then switching to cash can be a big lifesaver. Put those cards into an envelope, seal it up and get them out of sight. Set a weekly budget for the necessities and make your everyday purchases with cash. This way, you can physically see when you are getting close to hitting that weekly number. Larger expenses, when absolutely necessary, can be made with a check. The time it takes you to fill one out will act as a reminder to spend wisely.

Contact Your Creditors

Creditors may seem like the enemy at a time when you’re debating bankruptcy, but the truth is, they may be able to work with you. Many will be far more interested in finding a way to settle the situation instead of losing the money they lent you. Negotiate with them and see if they will lower your interest rate and work out a repayment plan. You won’t know until you ask.

Refinance Your Mortgage

One solution to high-interest credit card debt is to refinance your home and get cash out. Because your mortgage is secured debt, it has a much lower interest rate than most credit cards. By refinancing, you can use secured debt at a low interest rate to pay off high-interest unsecured debt. This will save you on having to make large interest payments in the future as you work to become solvent again.

Borrow from Friends or Family

Since it can put a serious strain on any relationship, borrowing money from your friends and family should be saved as a last resort. However, if the money will help you reach your long-term solution and isn’t just a temporary fix, then you should give it serious consideration. Make certain that you plan out how you will pay the individual back, and be as clear with those terms as possible before you borrow the money. This will help you both avoid uncertainty and tension in the future.

When Is Bankruptcy Your Only Option?

According to Shenwick, “If living on an austerity budget will not provide sufficient cash flow to pay back your creditors in one to two years, then you may want to consider bankruptcy. An experienced bankruptcy attorney can help you make this determination in a 45 minute to one hour consultation.” Remember that declaring bankruptcy isn’t the end of the world. Yes, it’s a serious decision that you should work very hard to avoid having to make, but it can also provide much-needed relief when you’ve run out of options.

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