Stories

Surge pricing for drivers’ taxi medallions

Cabbies flock to own their own businesses, at record-high cost

For the first time in six years, the city Taxi and Limousine Commission is selling medallions that allow yellow taxi drivers to become their own bosses — at a starting bid more than triple its previous level.

At the sealed-bid auction on February 26, the minimum bid for each of the 168 medallions on offer will be $650,000. At the last auction, in 2008, the opening bid was $189,000, and medallions sold for as little as $226,000; the highest winning bid was $413,000.

Taxi fares have increased just 17 percent in the same period.

Taxi crivers seek information on purchasing their own medallions — starting bid $650,000. Photo: Claire Moses

Taxi crivers seek information on purchasing their own medallions — starting bid $650,000. Photo: Claire Moses

Still hopeful, last week a few hundred taxi drivers streamed into an expo at the CUNY Graduate Center, seeking to own their own taxi medallions after many years of working for others.

“I have been doing this for 28 years,” said taxi driver Vanessa Glover, “I think it’s my turn.”

Glover anticipated that it would take about 15 years to pay off the medallion.

Unlike TLC’s medallions held by fleet owners, who collect rent of up to $132 a shift from drivers, those going up for auction require their owners to work their vehicles on city streets.

According to Taxi and Limousine Commission spokesman Allan Fromberg, the bidding price is determined based on market growth.

The going price for a medallion for a standard car is between $800,000 and $1,050,000. In 2013, 117 driver-owned medallions changed hands.

At the expo, reps from e-hailing services Uber and Hailo were on hand to help drivers earn some extra income by picking up fares online. But so far, those are not cash cows for New York City cab drivers. (Black cars are another story.) Under the city’s e-hail pilot program, yellow-taxi drivers can only charge the fares on the meter.

A cab driver can earn a few hundred extra dollars per week from Hailo, said Ben Ridgway, who is in charge of marketing for the e-hailing app. According to the TLC, drivers who take e-hails average one more fare per shift than other drivers, but e-hails still make up less than two-tenth of one percent of all yellow-taxi hails.

In total, TLC will be auctioning off 2,000 new medallions, 40 percent of them to drivers.

Bidders must scrounge together a down payment into the tens of thousands of dollars. They also must have a pledge from a bank to finance the purchase, much like a home mortgage.

Photo: Michael Rawle/Flickr

Photo: Michael Rawle/Flickr

Some drivers said they had no choice but to invest in a medallion and continue to drive a taxi.

“I have no profession,” said Syed Haider, a 54-year-old taxi driver. After driving a yellow cab for about 13 years, he said, it’s time to get his own medallion and stop paying monthly rent.

But, Haider acknowledged, “you need a lot of money.”

“It’s scary, but doable,” said Obioma Owuka, who attended the expo. “It’s good to have your own business.”