“Yes, I got scared,” Julio Mejía said.

He stopped working for two-and-a-half months because of COVID-19, but since mid-May, Mejía has been back at driving his livery taxi.

“I’m ready with my protection,” he said while showing a bottle of hand sanitizer. “I repeat, the people not ready, I’m not picking up, I’m sorry.”

What You Need To Know

  • At least 52 taxi and for-hire-vehicle drivers have died from COVID-19

  • The e-hail sector of the taxi industry is the one recovering the fastest

  • Drivers complain some passengers refuse to wear a mask

Mejía is one of many livery drivers working for this East Harlem base owned by José Altamirano.

“We lost three drivers to COVID, just in our base — two actively from COVID and one from after effects from COVID,” said Altamirano, the president of the Livery Base Owners Association.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) says at least 52 license drivers have died of COVID-19.

“It’s a lot for the drivers right now, very stressful time for us right now,” said Guillermo Fondeur, an Uber and Lyft driver.

Fondeur also stopped working for a few weeks before coming back on the road.

Benitez: Why did you decide to come back?

Fondeur: I saw the news, New York was doing better, and I get this protection for the car, so it’s given me a little more —

Benitez: — peace of mind.

Fondeur: Peace of mind and safety.

As soon as COVID-19 infections started to go down in New York and demand was slowly trickling up, many drivers decided to get behind the wheel.

“While, yes, our ridership and our drivers have taken a dip, we are seeing an increase in demand and the drivers who are on the road have a little less competition right now, so they are able to make a livable wage in ways that are comparable before COVID-19 and actually before 2020,” said Aloysee Heredia Jarmoszuk, the chair of the TLC.

Fondeur says he makes about 60 percent of what he used to before COVID-19 hit.

The e-hail sector of the taxi industry he belongs to seems to be the one recovering the fastest. TLC data show that out of every 100 e-hail vehicles roaming New York streets in January, only 28 were left at the height of the pandemic. That number went up to 38 by late June.

The TLC doesn’t have available data on livery cabs yet, but Altamirano says calls are up.

“The demand is picking up,” Altamirano said. “I think people are starting to move around more, particularly now that we’ve noticed that some businesses are telling their employees not to work remotely, but to come into the office.”

And with the growing number of passengers also comes a higher chance of picking up those unwilling to follow the rules.

“If they don’t wear the mask, I decide to open the window,” Fondeur said. “So they want AC, but they don’t want to use the mask, so I’ve been forced to open the window for health safety.”

The added risk for an Uber and Lyft driver like him? A bad rating from the passenger.


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