Before the pandemic, Richard Wissak’s taxi garage - a fleet of a 140 taxis - was open around the clock.
"This has always been a 24/7 operation, and the cars would come into the shop to get maintenance, put up on a lift, oil change, brakes checked," Wissak said. "Everything had to be good for the New York city streets.”
Now, it’s quiet.
He closed operations at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020.
He sold about 50 taxis, and most of the remaining vehicles in his fleet are parked, idle, in the lot.
"You always have such a diverse group of people in the backseat, as well as drivers in the front seat, so to see them sit idle, it’s a sad visual, and they’ve been grounded for far too long," Wissak said.
Wissak is not alone. Fleet owners said it’s difficult to find drivers to get behind the wheel.
According to Taxi and Limousine Commission data, there were 5,277 drivers on the road in February. In 2019, a year before the pandemic, there were 21,733 drivers.
Wissak said he made the decision to close down when he realized there was no way to make a profit in the pandemic.
"We find that there’s just not enough demand at this time, and not enough demand because there’s not enough people in the city, or tourists and out-of-towners coming in through the airports," he said.
To Wissak, it’s hopefully a temporary pause in operations of a company that’s been sending out taxis for nearly 60 years, employing at least 400 drivers and two dozen mechanics, dispatchers and office staff.
“Thousands upon thousands have passed through the doors, and learned how to drive a cab," he said.
His grandfather Elias was a taxi driver who bought medallions and opened a garage in Manhattan in 1962 with Wissak’s father, Stanley.
The garage under Stanley’s ownership moved to Long Island City a decade later.
Wissak, a lawyer by trade who joined his father’s business in 1990, still has that rapport with drivers he once employed.
“The service here was first to none, because they treat the drivers right," said Paul Wiredu, a taxi driver who used to drive for Wissak's garage.
Wissak also worries about complying with an expensive Taxi and Limousine Commission rule requiring fleet owners to retire cars after seven years and buy new ones. The TLC said it offers a hardship extension on that regulation.
Still, for Wissak to reopen, it’ll also take more people standing on the street, arms stretched, to catch a taxi.
"It’s something that’s very satisfying helping people get a job and moving the city around, and it’s something that I miss very much," Wissak said. "It’s been in may blood many years, so I hope to get back soon.”