Newburgh taxi drivers push for higher fares and reduced fees

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CITY OF NEWBURGH — Miguel Martinez brings home about $180 after a day of work driving a cab in Newburgh.

It’s not your typical 9-to-5 workday. He drives 16 hours a day, six days a week, and is the sole source of income for his family. At this rate, and after paying for gas, he earns an average of $11.25 per hour.

It’s barely enough to support himself, his wife, his two children and pay their bills, including $2,300 a month in rent.

Martinez became a taxi driver in 2019 after working several years in pizza delivery. He didn’t realize how expensive everything would be.

“It’s tough,” Martinez said, calculator on her phone in hand, as she calculated her costs.

High auto insurance also ate into its budget. Martinez pays $530 a month, according to online bank statements he showed a reporter.

Taxi driver Carlos Garcia sits in his cab on Broadway in Newburgh on Thursday January 27, 2022.

Other expenses include regular vehicle maintenance and the $130 weekly rental fee for radio dispatch equipment. It also pays permit and inspection fees of up to $500 per year.

Martinez works for himself. He owns his vehicle, but agrees to take passengers with Perusa Taxi. The city regulates taxi companies and has set fares within the city limits at $5 per ride, regardless of distance or number of passengers. It may take other fares beyond Newburgh.

Martinez and other independent drivers want the city to raise local fares to $7 and reduce permit and inspection costs. The city fee for a taxi driver’s permit application, actual permit, and renewal of that permit is each $100; taxi license is $400.

Taxi driver Miguel Cerrato, president of the Orange County Taxi Drivers Association, speaks during a meeting at the Alejandra Mexican Restaurant in Newburgh on January 26.

“With all the expenses, all the cost of living, the (vehicle costs), gas, everything has gone up,” Miguel Cerrato, president of the Orange County Independent Taxi Drivers Association, said recently. created.

About 20 drivers, including Martinez, and their family members gathered at Alejandra’s, a Mexican restaurant on Broadway, on January 26. They explained why they wanted the city government to raise fares and lower fees.

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Members of the city council had been invited to join the drivers at the restaurant. Ramona Monteverde, Giselle Martinez (no relation to Miguel Martinez) and police commissioner José Gomérez were present and listened to the drivers share stories of their struggles.

Newburgh City Councilwoman Ramona Monteverde speaks at a Newburgh meeting of the Orange County Taxi Drivers Association at the Alejandra Mexican Restaurant, January 26.

“I feel for you and I know this is a tough time for you,” Monteverde said.

She let them know that she supported the fare increase and was happy to see that they had organized themselves.

Time is money

After two hours into Miguel Cerrato’s work day on January 27, he had had two passengers, one no-show, and had made a total of $24. No tip.

Here’s how his day goes: Cerrato calls base when he’s ready to start his shift. It usually starts around 5 am. He is on a list of drivers. As ride requests come in, dispatchers supply customers with drivers, based on their place on the roster.

In a taxi, time is money.

Taxi driver Miguel Cerrato walks down Broadway in Newburgh on Thursday January 27, 2022.

The Times Herald-Record caught up with Cerrato after his coffee break around 10 a.m. that day to get a glimpse of his work. About 20 minutes later, Cerrato was sent to pick someone up from an office building at 290 Broadway. He waited outside for about 10 minutes but no one came near the taxi.

The runner was declared absent. When that happens, Cerrato said drivers don’t lose their spot on the dispatcher’s list.

Minutes later he was sent to Bourne Apartments on South Street.

The passenger was a young man who had requested a return trip to a bank in New Windsor.

The man said he had an appointment but the wait for him to do his business turned out to be 25 minutes. Every five minutes a taxi waits adds an extra dollar to the total price. Seven dollars in the bank, $5 for the wait, and $7 back totaled $19 for the ride.

From the back seat, the passenger handed Cerrato a $20 bill. Cerrato gave him $1 back. The rider pocketed it.

After dropping him off at First and Dubois Streets, Cerrato admitted he thought he could keep the change for a tip.

“Ah, well.”

A taxi is parked on Broadway in Newburgh, NY on Wednesday, January 26, 2022.

Regroup

The Orange County Independent Taxi Drivers Association officially organized on Nov. 3, 2021, said Cerrato, president of the group. Group members contract with taxi bases in the city, such as Taxi Rapido, Perusa, Express USA and others.

“We just brought the idea to some taxi drivers and they said, ‘We like it. We have to do this because there is too much abuse from taxi owners,'” Cerrato said.

It’s a delicate dance for Cerrato. He wants the process of organizing and improving working conditions to be fair and respectful of everyone – the drivers, the bosses of the “base” taxis and the users.

Taxi driver Mario L. Lucero speaks during an Orange County Independent Taxi Drivers Association meeting at the Alejandra Mexican Restaurant in Newburgh, January 26, 2022.

“I have nothing to say today against the owners of taxi companies,” Cerrato said at the association’s Jan. 26 meeting. “I work with them. And some of them are good.”

But the problems are sticky. Many association members suspect that if the city agrees to their demands for higher taxi fares and lower fees, the base owners will increase the weekly rental price of radio dispatch equipment.

“They’re not saying anything yet,” said Miguel Martinez. “We only hear rumours, but this is what will happen.”

Alex Mendoza, owner of Perusa Taxi, said the owners, who have also organized their own association, have no immediate plans to raise the price of radio rentals. But that’s something they could do later.

“We’re going to increase it at some point, but not right away because everything is going up (in price),” Mendoza said, noting he didn’t want to burden his drivers any further. “We’ll see how it works.”

Owners plan to force price increases

Mendoza, one of the owners of the taxi company, said in telephone interviews on January 27 and February 4 that the owners of the base were advocating for fare increases and reductions. They plan to speak at the regular city council meeting on February 14.

Mendoza said landlords expect the city to increase local rates by the end of 2021.

Since that hasn’t happened, the owners plan to take matters into their own hands, Mendoza said, and will start charging new rates in March.

Taxi driver Miguel Cerrato waits at a traffic light behind another taxi on Liberty Street in Newburgh on Thursday January 27, 2022.

“As it is, the city is forcing us to do this because otherwise we can’t survive on the same prices,” he said.

Owners asked drivers to display bright orange flyers in their taxis announcing new fares that would start March 1. The local city fare would increase to $7, a trip to Route 17K or Route 300 would cost $9, and so on.

Miguel Cerrato, a driver, held up copies of these flyers at the drivers’ association meeting.

He and other drivers say they are not comfortable posting fares that have not been approved. This caused confusion and friction with runners, he said.

“We’re supposed to work with the city and think about how much money Newburgh’s workforce is actually bringing into their homes,” Cerrato said. “We have to work together.”

Police Commissioner José Gomérez told the drivers, “As far as the police department is concerned, this charge is not legal.”

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