photoAn aggrieved New York City cab driver has filed a class action lawsuit detailing what he says are unsatisfactory -- and financially crippling -- working conditions.

According to the suit, because of the requirement that every cab carry an official medallion, the defendants “enjoy a monopoly on lawful cab service and, as such, taxicabs must bear a medallion issued by the City of New York in controlled numbers.” As a result, the suit says, the plaintiffs “must ... pay the lease fee to the possessor of a medallion from the City as a condition of practicing their trade.”

The suit, which targets Boulevard Taxi Leasing along with several other defendants, says that when Boulevard upgraded its fleet in 2008, it stopped allowing cabbies to lease cars on a weekly basis and instead required them to submit to daily leases. Under this new regime, the suit says, the defendant “required Plaintiff to lease the taxicab seven (7) days each week, without permitting Plaintiff to take a day off.” Although the plaintiff could choose to not work on a certain day, he still had to pay the lease fee to the company, according to the suit.

“Defendants also required [the plaintiffs] to lease the taxicabs on holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, despite the fact that Plaintiff and members of the class did not drive on those days,” the suit alleges.

Glimpse at life of cab drivers

According to the complaint, the defendant charged cabbies between $107 and $141 per day, amounting to “a weekly total of $894.” This amount is significantly higher than “the standard lease cap set by the TLC [Taxi & Limousine Commission]” of $666 per week, according to the suit.

The suit gives a rare glimpse into the cutthroat world of New York City cabbies.

The complaint says that “[t]he nature of the work that taxicab drivers perform exempt them from the protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and other state wage and hour laws,” meaning that they “frequently work very long hours for pay that can be less than half of the minimum wage and are not provided with benefits.”

It's dangerous out there

The suit also points to Department of Labor statistics finding that “driving a taxicab is among the most dangerous jobs in the country,” with drivers “60 times more likely than any other U.S. workers to be killed on the job.” The suit also cites a report by the New York Committee on Occupational Safety and Health finding that “taxi drivers face a level of on-the-job assaults second only to those directed at police and private security guards.”

The suit seeks to certify a class of “all persons who leased taxicabs from Defendants at any time from January 20, 2005 to the entry of judgment in this case ... who were charged in excess of the TLC standard lease caps.”

Tough time for cabbies

The action comes at a generally tough time for cab drivers, who are nervously awaiting the fate of a proposal by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to legalize the practice of hailing livery cabs -- also known as gypsy cabs -- in the outer boroughs of the city. While livery cabs often pick up passengers who hail them, that practice is technically illegal; the cabs are supposed to be used only for pre-arranged pickups. But legalizing the already-common practice will, according to the executive director of the New York Taxi Worker's Alliance, “immediately cut into fares, especially during the rush hours when yellow cab drivers who live in the outer boroughs pick up fares at the beginning or end of their shifts."