This story was originally published on February 20, 2002 by THE CITY. Sign up here to receive the latest stories from THE CITY every morning.
By Jose Martinez
Mohammed Motaleb had just pulled his 2012 Toyota Prius out of the JFK airport parking lot last month when he noticed a Ford Crown Victoria following him.
“They followed me honking, honking, honking, like it was a police car,” was how he described the Jan. 16 encounter with a man he said tried to grab the taxi medallion he has owned since 2009. “They hounded me like 200 yards.”
The airport run-in has come to an end, Motaleb said, with him calling the police after the other driver blocked his yellow cab and tried to repossess the once-coveted metal plate that allows drivers to pick up hail from the street.
A Port Authority spokesman confirmed officers responded to the dispute between “a medallion driver and a repo company employee”, but said they were not involved because it was not a criminal case.
“I said, ‘You can’t take my medallion,'” Motaleb told THE CITY. “I said, ‘If you have the legal authority, you can show me,’ and he didn’t show me.”
Less than three weeks later, the Bangladeshi immigrant received a letter from a law firm informing him that his medallion will be sold at a private sale on or after February 18 “to enforce the rights of OSK ,” a Minnesota-based lender that has about 400 medallions, according to the city’s taxi and limousine commission.
The encounters highlight the continued pressures taxi medallion owners face, even after many celebrated the city’s November pledge to guarantee medallion loans. The pledge ended a hunger strike and is designed to ease the devastating financial burden on many industry players through lower monthly payments.
“Oh my God, it was a moment of hope and triumph,” said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance.
But for some medallion owners, that moment of hope proved fleeting.
“Bad Faith Players”
TLC records reveal that 94 medallions were seized in January, 87 in December and 72 in November. That’s 253 of them seized months after the city gave the green light in March to an initial $65 million medallion homeowner relief program that restructures loans and provides financial support to pay down debt .
The deal – which is meant to work in tandem with the program announced last spring – came after years of a collapse in the value of medallions that were once valued at $1million, a figure that has fallen to a fraction of this, driven by the rise of ride-hailing app companies like Uber and Lyft.
“The objective of the guarantee is to induce more lenders to participate in the [medallion owner relief program] and to provide as favorable terms as possible to owners of individual medallions,” said Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk, chairman and commissioner of the TLC, during the commission’s public hearing in February.
Under the agreement, Marblegate Asset Management – the private equity firm that is the largest holder of medallion loans – will restructure the loans up to a maximum of $200,000 each. This amount will then increase to $170,000 thanks to a $30,000 grant from the City.
While the TLC says more than a dozen lenders have agreed to participate in the relief program, taxi driver supporters say medallion owners continue to face harassment from what Desai called ” players in bad faith”.
“These are the last gasps of an exploitative industry,” said Zohran Mamdani, a Queens Assemblyman who joined the taxi drivers last fall in a 15-day hunger strike.
“They hope to recover as many tens of thousands of dollars as they can before submitting to a program that will give drivers peace of mind that they won’t have to deal with a repossessing agent. “
After paying $100 to $200 a month at the start of the pandemic, Motaleb said he stopped making his $2,200 monthly payment in July as he unsuccessfully tried to settle his mortgage.
He said he was now being “pressured in every possible way”.
“Until this program is underway, I believe all lenders should stop taking action against borrowers for pursuing possession of medallions,” Mamdani told THE CITY.
Taxi rides have plummeted during the pandemic, with just 6,908 of 13,587 medallion taxis — or 51% — on the road at least once in December, according to TLC data.
Kumar Dhiren’s yellow Prius is not one of those that hit the road.
Since its medallion and meter were repossessed while parked on a street in Sunnyside in September, the cab has been hidden in an alley in Queens Village.
“If I have the medallion right now, my car is driving down the street,” Dhiren told THE CITY. “But until we get the locket back, nothing happens.”
Dhiren said he received a call from AmeriNat, a company that handles foreclosures for lenders, two weeks after the locket was seized.
“They said we can make your modification temporary,” he said. “I was told to pay $10,000 up front, then $300 a week.”
Dhiren said he declined and received a notification in October that the locket had been sold.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?
A spokesperson for AmeriNat declined to comment, and OSK did not respond to requests for comment.
The city has not released the number of medallions currently in storage.
In the meantime, the Prius sits in the driveway, with Dhiren in the dark about the condition of his medallion.
The Bangladeshi immigrant said he thought owning one would change his life when he bought it over a decade ago, but now sees it very differently.
When asked if he regretted the investment, he replied, “Oh, yeah. You don’t sleep well now.
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