SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Taxi drivers in San Francisco on Thursday asked the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for relief as they say they’re facing a dramatic decline in business, despite being an essential service.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

According to the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, as taxis continue to operate during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the alliance is asking the city to waive permit fees for drivers for the remainder of the 2020 fiscal year, which ends in June, and to extend the waiver for the next two years.

“With most of the city shut down, very few people are moving about. This is a devastating blow to drivers, most of whom are immigrants with little to fall back on,” SFTWA Board Secretary Evelyn Engel said in a statement.

“We recognize that many others are suffering in this crisis. But we believe the city has a special obligation to its taxi drivers and to its regulated taxi industry, because taxis play a major role in carrying out San Francisco’s transit-first policies, in meeting its climate goals, and, most importantly, in providing transportation to the disability community,” she said.

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The SFTWA is also asking the SFMTA to work with the San Francisco Federal Credit Union and other lenders to cancel medallion loan payments and stop medallion foreclosures. Back in 2010 and 2016, thousands of cab drivers purchased medallions for $250,000 at the city’s request, only to see their incomes decline as app-based ride hailing service companies like Lyft and Uber flourished.

“Owner-drivers were already struggling to make their monthly medallion payments. We could see a tsunami of medallion foreclosures because of the coronavirus crisis,” Engel said.

In response to the SFTWA’s requests, the SFMTA said Thursday it would suspend permit renewal fees for drivers for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. Although the order is expected to last through April 7, it’s subject to change.

The SFMTA added it was looking into other measures to lessen the impacts of the order on the taxi industry.

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