Opinion: Yellow taxi drivers are being left behind

Rideshare drivers now have access to an array of benefits, but drivers of yellow taxi cabs still do not.

A woman looks out from a yellow cab near Washington Square Park on March 26, 2023.

A woman looks out from a yellow cab near Washington Square Park on March 26, 2023. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

On November 2, Attorney General Letitia James announced a historic settlement with Uber and Lyft, guaranteeing rideshare drivers in New York State at least $26 per hour while they are working, Paid Sick Leave, and more access to in app support and deactivation appeals. James has once again stood up for working New Yorkers- in this case finding a way to instill new protections and benefits for thousands of rideshare drivers from Buffalo to Montauk, while preserving the right for them to operate as independent contractors and keep the flexibility which attracted them to this type of work initially. While this announcement is a win for rideshare drivers, it does clarify the disparity between these drivers and traditional yellow taxi drivers.

This deal means the playing field for drivers in the suburbs and in upstate New York will now be leveled with that of New York City drivers, who have had a minimum earnings standard, including an allotment for Paid Sick Leave for years. Couple that with Governor Hochul’s announcement that Uber drivers in New York can continue to access unemployment insurance, as well as the Black Car Fund, which has been available to all rideshare company and for-hire vehicle drivers in the State to access to workers compensation and other benefits, and it's easy to see that Uber and Lyft drivers in New York State have more protections and benefits than any other similarly situated drivers, while still maintaining flexibility and independence.

This begs the question - when is it time for all drivers to have these benefits? My district sits in Queens, which is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of yellow taxi drivers. The majority of these drivers are immigrants, and are working in this industry to provide for them and their families. Access to Paid Sick Leave, workers compensation, or unemployment benefits are key protections that they have already long deserved, and as of now have been clearly forgotten. Yellow taxi drivers in New York City traverse down the same streets, pick up passengers from the same airports and spend more time on the road, but because they are independent contractors who drive a yellow car, they don’t have access to these same benefits, and there doesn’t even seem to be a conversation happening about why that disparity exists. 

While workers’ compensation is available to taxi, app-based, and traditional black car drivers, only taxi drivers are not guaranteed accident insurance, vision, dental, critical illness and accidental death benefits. Paid Sick Leave, which has been included in the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission’s earning standard for Uber and Lyft drivers since 2019, and will now be available to all drivers in the State, hasn’t even been a whisper for yellow taxi drivers, nor has access to unemployment insurance. And while all app-based drivers in New York State will see a yearly increase in minimum wage requirements, taxi drivers only saw their first increase in a decade earlier this year, and will likely wait another decade of inflation before their next increase.

The progress we have made for app-based drivers is incredible, and will create meaningful protections for tens of thousands of workers in the State. Just last year, we passed A 9619, a bill I sponsored, which provided a three year extension of vision and telemedicine benefits through the Black Car Fund. 

Yellow taxis clearly have a different operational structure than Uber and Lyft, but that shouldn’t be an impossible barrier for these individuals, who are also independent contractors, to have access to important benefits and protections. I applaud the leaders of our state for creating meaningful reform in one sector of the transportation economy, and encourage us to begin the conversation in earnest to make sure those left behind are made equal.