A Driver’s Suicide Reveals the Dark Side of the Gig Economy
Last spring, Bhairavi Desai, a middle-aged woman without a driver’s license and thus an unlikely leader for thousands of mostly male drivers in the world’s largest market for hired vehicles, delivered emotional testimony in front of New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission about the mounting existential difficulties in her field.
在世界最大的租车市场上，没有驾驶执照的中年女性拜拉维·德萨伊(Bhairavi Desai)领导着数万名主要为男性的司机，这看上去有些不太搭调。去年春天，她在纽约市出租车及礼车协会(New York City’s Taxi & Limousine Commission)作了感人的陈述，阐明了她的行业面临的生存困境。
The executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Ms. Desai had been a labor activist for 21 years but she had never seen anything like the despair she was witnessing now — the bankruptcies, foreclosures and eviction notices plaguing drivers who were calling her with questions about how to navigate homelessness and paralyzing depression.
任纽约出租车工人联盟(New York Taxi Workers Alliance)执行总监21年来，德萨伊一直是劳工活动人士，但如今的绝望情况是她前所未见的——破产、止赎和驱逐通知困扰着她的司机们，而他们还在为无家可归和严重的抑郁症问题来向她求助。
“Half my heart is just crushed,’’ she said, “and the other half is on fire.”
The economic hardship that Uber and its competitors had inflicted on conventional drivers in New York and London and other cities had become overwhelming. For decades there had been no more than 12,000 to 13,000 taxis in New York but now there were myriad new ways to avoid public transportation, in some cases with ride-hailing services like Via that charged little more than $5 to travel in Manhattan. In 2013, there were 47,000 for-hire vehicles in the city. Now there were more than 100,000, approximately two-thirds of them affiliated with Uber.
While Uber has sold that “disruption” as positive for riders, for many taxi workers, it has been devastating. Between 2013 and 2016, the gross annual bookings of full-time yellow-taxi drivers in New York, working during the day when fares are typically highest, fell from $88,000 a year to just over $69,000. Medallions, which grant the right to operate a taxi in New York City, were now depreciating assets and drivers who had borrowed money to pay for them, once a sound investment strategy, were deeply in debt. Ms. Desai was routinely seeing grown men cry and she had become increasingly concerned about the possibility that they would begin taking their lives.
On Monday morning, Doug Schifter, a livery driver in his early 60s, killed himself with a shotgun in front of City Hall in Lower Manhattan, having written a lengthy Facebook post several hours earlier laying out the structural cruelties that had left him in such dire circumstance. He was now sometimes forced to work more than 100 hours a week to survive, he said; when he had started out in the 1980s, a 40-hour week was fairly typical. He blamed politicians — mayors Michael R. Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — and their acquiescence to the rich for permitting so many cars to flood the streets. He blamed the Taxi Commission for the fines and hassles it imposed.
周一上午，60出头的制服司机道格·施夫特(Doug Schifter)在曼哈顿下城市政厅门口用一把霰弹枪开枪自尽，几个小时前，他在Facebook上写了一篇长文，控诉结构性的残酷状况令他陷入绝境。他说，他现在有时不得不每周工作超过100小时才能生存下去；当他在1980年代开始从事这个行业的时候，每周工作40小时是相当正常的。他谴责政治人士——市长迈克尔·R·布隆伯格(Michael R. Bloomberg)和白思豪(Bill de Blasio)，还有州长安德鲁·M·科默(Andrew M. Cuomo)——是他们默许富人让这么多汽车涌上街头。他指责出租车委员会征收的罚款，以及带来各种麻烦事。
He had lost his health insurance and accrued credit card debt and he would no longer work for “chump change,’’ preferring, he said, to die in the hope that his sacrifice would draw attention to what drivers, too often unable to feed their families now, were enduring. He had forecast all of this doom in columns he had written for a trade publication called Black Car News, he wrote, but few had listened to him.
他已经失去了医疗保险，信用卡也负债累累，他说，他不会再为“愚蠢的改变”而工作，宁愿以自己的牺牲唤起人们对出租车司机境遇的关注，他们现在往往已经无法养活自己的家庭。他写道，他在为行业出版物《黑车新闻》(Black Car News)撰写的几篇专栏文章中曾经预言了当前恶劣的局面，但是几乎无人倾听。
Implicit in his testament was the anger he felt over the de-professionalization of his life’s work. Mr. Schifter had driven more than five million miles throughout his tenure, through five hurricanes and 50 snowstorms. He had chauffeured celebrities and worn a suit. He was not driving a car to supplement the income he was getting from his crepe business and he was not trying to make a little extra money for a gym membership. He was not a participant in the gig economy; he was a casualty of it.
For at least a century, the suicide as spectacle, prompted by a reversal of fortune, has typically been the practice of the wealthy. In the months after Wall Street’s crash in 1929, four people threw themselves out windows in New York (leading to the folklore that there had been many, many more such deaths). Decades later, Bernie Madoff’s son Mark hanged himself from a dog leash in his SoHo apartment. In 2016, Sanjay Valvani, a hedge fund manager accused of insider trading, slashed his throat in the bedroom of his Brooklyn townhouse, to much sensation in the tabloid and financial press. Poverty too often kills you without making you try.
由于金钱方面的挫折而实施引人瞩目的自杀，曾经在近一个世纪里是有钱人的做法。在1929年华尔街崩溃之后的几个月里，有四人在纽约跳楼（导致民间传说认为，其实有许许多多的人也是这样自杀身亡）。几十年后，伯尼·麦道夫(Bernie Madoff)的儿子马克(Mark)在自己的休南公寓里用栓狗绳上吊身亡。在2016年，被指控进行内幕交易的对冲基金经理桑杰·瓦尔瓦尼(Sanjay Valvani)在他布鲁克林联排别墅的卧室里割喉自杀，在小报和财经媒体上轰动一时。而贫穷往往不给你自杀的机会就杀死你。
In response to Mr. Schifter’s death, Mayor de Blasio shoed little sensitivity to the psychic harms of economic deprivation. “Let’s face it, for someone to commit suicide there’s an underlying mental health challenge,” he said. Uber declined to comment.
For taxi drivers staring down an even bleaker future of driverless cars at a moment when Washington considers a weekly paycheck bump of $1.50 an occasion to break out the layer cake, it is hard to see where the metaphoric Prozac will come from.
The problems facing the city’s taxi drivers have become so bad, Ms. Desai said, that even on New Year’s Eve many complained that they roamed around unable to pick up fares. At about that time she had received a call from a woman who runs a community radio station in the Bronx, with an audience made up mostly of Dominican livery drivers. Two drivers that the host knew of had killed themselves and other drivers were on the show talking about the isolation and fear they saw all around them.
In the days preceding his death, Mr. Schifter wrote about his decreasing faith in our politics and about his commitments to his spiritual life. “Forget the cliché you only live once it is not true,” he said in a Facebook post. “The clues are all about you if you take the time to seek them.”