Costing up to a million dollars, it served to restrict the number of drivers on the street. Hard-working taxi drivers could earn a good living.
Now, with ride-app companies like Uber and Lyft flooding those streets with competition from contract drivers, the system no longer works. No, drivers for Uber and Lyft don't need to pony up the money for a medallion. There is no price of entry.
In addition, those purchasing the medallions in the pre-ride app days find their investment has plunged significantly in value. For many that was their retirement money.
That has left NYC taxi drivers crushed by competition and saddled with a bad investment.
So far, five of them, it is assumed, have committed suicide in five months. The latest, reports The New York Times, is Yu Mein Chow.
Before that was the high-profile suicide of Doug Schifter who left a long-form note on Facebook.
Seven years ago, after his first career in the jewelry industry collapsed, Yu Mein Chow paid $700,000 for a medallion.
According to the Taxi and Limo Commission, currently that could be worth about $175,000. Call that devaluation by technology. Simultaneously, despite longer hours spent waiting for a fare, there were fewer fares. Take-home money shriveled.
That driver became debt-ridden. His credit card was rejected. He couldn't pay for college for his children. The speculation is that he took his own life by jumping into the river.
At one time for them it had been the best of times. If they put in the hours and the hustle, they had access to the American Dream.
Buy a house? Sure, but probably not in Manhattan.
Shifter had purchased one in the Poconos. It was his castle and he didn't mind driving 90 minutes to NYC.
Maintain a middle-class lifestyle? Yes. That usually included the hope of having their children educated.
Shifter had been attempting to organize drivers to lobby against the ride-share app companies. But that never got traction.
Maybe other drivers wanted to keep their heads down and hold onto the dwindling piece of the action they still had. Among the desperate, half a loaf could appear better than the possibility of no loaf at all.
On their own, the powers that be in NYC and the state haven't created a remedy for the taxi drivers.
Maybe this collapse of a whole industry by tech will play out the way digital has killed off journalism jobs and triggered low compensation for other kinds of writers.
It just is what it is.
Parents of iGen contact me and ask if their children should focus on a writing major in college. My answer: The skill is useful. The career paths are shrinking.
Although there will always be stars in writing like Ronan Farrow, currently the majority, like NYC cab drivers, can't make a decent living.
Among those I coach, one put it this way: "Writing requires lots of research and time thinking. I am earning less than minimum wage and have to work fast. I would be financially ahead of the game in the Aldi management training program." She tried sales and is doing well.
Around the time of The Great Recession, I began to earn more of my living from coaching than producing content. The target market was the lawyers who were downsized out of the legal sector. In 2009, there were 6,000 of them. Several were under psychiatric care for suicidal ideation. One had gone from $300k annually to $40k from a solo law practice. And his only client was a relative.
Currently, my niche market is the over-50. Yes, ageism has been worsened by technology. The assumption is that older professionals are tech-illiterate.
Here, free to download, is my book on how seasoned professionals can outsmart their comfort zone, stop looking backward to the good old days, and make a good living today Download Over50OutsmartingYourComfortZone
Question: What would I recommend to traditional NYC taxi drivers? Struggle to identify another way to earn a decent living. Mourn what was and let it go.
Contact Jane Genova email@example.com.