By now, we all know that everyone is taking a big fat bite out of the COVID sandwich. No one is immune from the effects of this horrible pandemic. For-Hire Vehicle (FHV) drivers were already reeling from the effects of the yellow medallion market crash, the massive influx of drivers to the market, the onerous rules of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, the unbearable working hours and the high cost of insurance.
COVID-19 initially caused business in the FHV industry to drop by 90%. Most FHV bases and drivers rely upon tourism and air travel for the vast majority of their business. The coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented 65% decrease in international travel during the first half of 2020. The drop in tourism is said to have been five times greater than the loss in international tourism in 2009 amid the global financial crisis.
The travel and tourism industry is one of the largest casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. The massive decline in travel and tourism has placed untold numbers of jobs and businesses in an untenable position.
Transportation has always been a major industry in NYC. It has been said that the transportation business is what drives the economic engine of the City of New York (NYC). When COVID-19 first hit NYC, FHV drivers were deemed to be “essential workers” and thus, not subject to the in-person restriction. All essential workers have been hailed as heroes of the pandemic – from hospital workers to doormen and from FHV drivers to food delivery people and pharmacy clerks. They have all risked their lives while others work from home.
In order for society to continue to function, these essential workers must be kept safe. Many FHV bases and FHV drivers voluntarily went out and bought costly partitions to make passengers not just feel safer while being transported but actually be safer. FHV drivers have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure their vehicles are cleaned and sanitized after each use in order to decrease the risk of transmission of this disease. Business is down, unpaid work time is up (no driver is paid to sanitize their vehicle) and there is no end in sight.
The first vaccines arrived in NYC on December 14, 2020, but the rollout has been slowed by bureaucratic and other obstacles. Understandably, frontline health care workers were first up. All of these recipients have been called “Category 1A”, which to date includes only health care workers and nursing home staff and residents. Of course, police, firefighters and EMTs should be high up on the list.
Meanwhile, neither Mayor de Blasio nor Governor Cuomo have revealed the full list of all who will be eligible for the next round, Category 1B, or even when it will begin. In creating a hierarchy of essential workers for the COVID-19 vaccine, FHV drivers have been left out. I understand that there is a pecking order, but the fact remains that FHV drivers provide more than just transportation to and from the airport. FHV drivers provide an essential service by providing the means to enable health care workers to get to their jobs and thus, to be able to do their jobs.
Think about it, FHV drivers come into contact with countless people every day. Also, FHV drivers transport health care workers to hospitals and clinics to do their jobs to help those who are sick. I understand that determining a pecking order of “the most essential workers” is nuanced, but to me, it seems to be a matter of common sense that FHV drivers be included early on. If you are sick, and in a hospital, do you want to be treated by a health care worker who may not have been vaccinated when the person who transported that health care worker to do their job has also not been vaccinated? Even if the health care worker was vaccinated, it has been said that the vaccine does not prevent transmission of the disease, meaning vaccinated people will effectively become “silent spreaders”. In other words, there is currently no conclusive evidence to claim the COVID-19 vaccine stops people spreading the virus that causes the disease.
As a result of this lack of information, governments and experts have openly stressed the need to follow social distancing and mask requirements even after being fully vaccinated. Hence, the purpose of the vaccine is not to prevent the spread of the disease but is really to enable essential workers to continue to work to serve those who need essential services.
FHV drivers are vital for the function of NYC’s essential work. As such, FHV drivers should be vaccinated as soon as possible. Even now amid the pandemic, FHV drivers transport half a million people each day in NYC, including health care workers and other essential workers who travel. Thus, they are at high risk of contracting the virus due to the nature of their work.
FHV drivers need access to vaccination as soon as possible in order to be able to transport health care workers and other essential workers to do their job. FHV drivers not only provide a necessary service but let us also remember that FHV drivers stepped up to deliver more meals to the elderly and other vulnerable individuals during the GetFoodNYC Food Delivery Program at the onset of the pandemic.
Public transportation drivers are already rightfully members of group 1B. It seems clear that their counterparts (FHV drivers) deserve the same access to the vaccine. In order for NYC to continue to function properly, FHV drivers must be able to work. Without the vaccine, FHV drivers are placed at risk of not being able to work. When FHV drivers are at risk and cannot provide transportation, then the entire private transportation industry in NYC is at risk of a collapse. Let’s not wait until the warning bell had to be rung before ensuring that the vaccine is provided to FHV drivers.
FHV drivers have gone through hell over the past few year, yet they are still here doing their jobs. The difference now is that they are doing their jobs at risk of their own health and life. FHV drivers have been hailed as heroes of the pandemic yet, the City and State of New York still treats FHV drivers as second-class citizens.
Now is the time to get this turned around. Not to thank FHV drivers, but to ensure that FHV drivers are here to provide their essential services when it matters the most. It is time that FHV drivers be protected as the essential part of the NYC community that they are.