“How long has it been? Shall we get into it again?”
-Miike Snow, Black and Blue
Where we last left off, yours truly was driving over the Williamsburg Bridge in March of 2020 wondering if it would be the last time he’d get behind the wheel of a yellow cab to take fares in the 5 Boroughs. Indeed, it seemed for a while that was going to be the case as weeks turned into months which turned into a real life Groundhog Day, minus Bill Murray and company. Eventually, that was not enough to last forever nor was it enough for sustenance as the real question became when, and not if, there would be a return to the streets of the city.
That day was actually last December and thankfully, there was enough business during that initial shift to make it relatively effortless. It felt like riding a bike when it came to picking up where I left off but unfortunately, those two-wheeled nuisances were in larger force than ever in The Big Apple because of the massive increase in demand in take-out orders. Toss in more protected lanes for them, redesigned intersections, expanded bus lanes, and an onslought of Amazon, Peapod, UPS, FedEx, and every other delivery truck under the sun, and the end result was an environment that required a whole new learning curve not much unlike my first day early last decade.
Distractions aside, the real change came with the competition that was becoming old hat by this point. For years, our competitors undercut us in an attempt to drive us out of business with the end goal of forming a tech monopoly that could raise rates at will. From the first day I returned, there was nonstop gratitude and relief on the part of my passengers across the racial and economic spectrum, as they were all sick of the delays, lousy drivers, and especially the increased rates that the app companies were now charging. No, they weren’t profitable but their relentless drive (pun intended) towards self-sufficiency was still going nowhere in their second decade of operation – which was only fitting given how much they contributed to congestion.
Speaking of that, Congestion Pricing remained a hot-button issue as an implementation date of late ’23 or early ’24 was now looming in the distance. After being put off numerous times across numerous administrations, the current leadership was determined to finally see it come to fruition, at the urging of the MTA as their ridership struggled to return to pre-pandemic levels.
However, even that was not set in stone as it faced challenges from pols from Manhattan’s surrounds, including Bronx Congressman Ritchie Torres and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. All of the hubbub might be for naught as New York Gubernatorial Candidate Lee Zeldin vowed to overturn it should he win in November’s General Election. Constant news about it was not what anyone who drove wanted to hear, as the citywide yellow taxi fleet that still had less than half of the 13,500+ cabs on duty in a given day.
Even with new challenges threatening to put another nail in our proverbial coffin, there was no doubt that some of the best shifts that I ever had took place over the last nine months. Increased crime, graffiti, squalor, filth, and civil disobedience were disheartening at best and potentially disastrous at worst but being inside a vehicle and soaking up whatever new memories and experiences that were worth holding onto proved to be the panacea against the city’s tepid recovery.
On top of all of that, enough people were disillusioned with the new Mayor’s efforts to bring New York back as he was seen far too often at Zero Bond, celebrity events, or at photo ops with flashbulbs and cameras everywhere. He wasn’t as bad as his predecessor since he came across as enthusiastic, bombastic, and drastically better at his on-time performance but that didn’t mean that was he was better at his job. His starting point was much lower than de Blasio’s since much of the city’s human and financial prosperity and capital were squandered away leading up to his inauguration, but few thought that a full turnaround was underway 8 and half months into his first term.
It was tough to ride around in a place that still had a majority of it’s office workers still at home, while sidewalk sheds collected just as many rats and vagrants as excess diners, all on top of a crumbling and unsafe mass transit network and a public school system that was hemorrhaging tens of thousands of students to suburban, private, charter, and faraway districts as threats of looming budget shortfalls starts to make their way into future revenue projections.
No one believed that New York was going to repeat all of the mistakes that led to the mid-70’s fiscal crisis or become the east coast’s next iteration of Detroit but as the months went on in 2022, it was obvious that the place had a *long* way to go to get back to where it was 4 or 5 years ago. Even a new TLC Commissioner did little to give drivers hope that there would be a turnaround, let alone a fare increase that would be the first for the yellow cabbies since September of 2012.
Like anything else in life, something that’s adrift and amiss will continue to go on…until it doesn’t. No one knew if the city was on a verge of another disaster, just like no one knew what was coming when the rain cleared out on the evening of September 10th, 2001. Every disaster and crisis in New York’s history was overcome but whether Gotham was a better place afterwards remained to be seen, which also looked to be the case this time around.