Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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Taxi Driver Suicides: The Cost of Convenience

With the advent of ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft, taxi drivers have become a thing of the past. But what about those who haven’t? Taxi services didn’t just disappear overnight; many drivers still struggle to pay off investments made long ago, worrying about their accrued financial burdens on a daily basis. What do you do when you’re heavily invested in a dying industry? For many, the answer is a tragic one: suicide.

In the American setting of late capitalism, whose responsibility is it when individuals find themselves in a state of extreme economic misfortune? After all, taxi drivers are not the only ones who have to endure crippling poverty. In a capitalist state, the guiding principle is essentially “every man for himself” but it’s important not to forget our humanity. Amid a culture which rewards selfishness and vilifies the poor for not trying hard enough, it’s up to the federal government to step in with a taxpayer funded financial aid program for the drivers who have been fiscally and emotionally devastated by the emergence of Uber and Lyft.

The two ride sharing services are both extremely popular and successful for good reason. Since nearly anyone can become a Lyft or Uber driver, the service is widespread and easily available–a ride is often only minutes away. In addition, patrons know ahead of time who their driver is and rates are often cheaper than taxi fares. There’s no question that Uber and Lyft are the preferred services, but their success and consumer convenience has come at the cost of taxi drivers’ mental health and at times even their lives.

Naturally, consumers have gravitated toward the most convenient option for transportation. While it’s technically our fault the taxi industry is dying, the average consumer could not have known the consequences would be this grave. Taxi drivers, during the service’s heyday, invested in taxi medallions which effectively federally authorized one to operate or lease a taxi. The medallions cost thousands of dollars and have, with the rise of Uber and Lyft, dropped immensely in value. So now, drivers are left to deal with crushing debt and a market which has very little demand for what they provide.

Drivers who are heavily invested in their profession now work longer hours than ever–sometimes more than 100 a week just to make ends meet. The pressure puts an immense amount of stress on the unfortunate cabbies, causing some of them to take their own lives. No one saw this coming, and now taxi drivers are paying an unfair price.

So, what’s to be done? Uber and Lyft have a moral obligation to assist those whose lives have been ruined as a side effect of the ridesharing services’ success, but it’s unlikely they’ll do so willingly. It’s up to the federal government to offer some kind of taxpayer funded loan forgiveness to heavily indebted taxi drivers. After all, lives are at stake. No one should have to endure crushing debt and 100 hour weeks, and we, as consumers, are to blame for what’s happened. It’s only fair we work toward fixing the problem we so carelessly helped create.

Simon Orychiwski is a fourth year Political Science major and English and Literary Journalism minor. He can be reached at sorychiw@uci.edu.