By Lindsay Calleran
While millions of city dwellers were hiding from Hurricane Sandy, Edmond Bimpong drove straight into it.
Bimpong, originally from Ghana, has been a taxi driver in New York for “17 stressful years,” he says. While most employers instructed New Yorkers to stay home on the Monday of the storm, Bimpong had to decide for himself – and it came down to how much money he was willing to lose.
Bimpong lives in Far Rockaway, where a mandatory evacuation began Sunday night. “I was able to sneak in,” he said, “through back roads. They barricaded everything. The highways – you know? If it gets really bad, I’ll stay in Manhattan. If it’s not so bad, I’ll go to Queens with a friend. I’m not going back to the Rockaways.” But he did go to work.
In the complicated design of yellow cab employment, Bimpong is what he calls a “weekly.” For many drivers, the days of owning your own cab are long gone, as the price of a medallion is more than $1 million. Instead, drivers lease a cab by the shift, day, or week from one of the millionaires who buy up the medallions. In Bimpong’s case, he leases every week and shares the taxi with another driver.
“Today is supposed to be a double shift for me,” he said of the Monday of the storm. “So whether I work or I stay in, I have to pay.” NYCityCab.com lists an average weekly lease at $1,500. Bimpong and his partner have seven days to reach that number and, if they double it, to come away with $750 each. Natural disasters such as Sandy threaten their chance at that pay off – and taxi owners aren’t offering their sympathies.
“They don’t care,” Bimpong said, “because you’ve paid them the lease already.” Bimpong said no percentage of the lease would be reimbursed because of Sandy or any natural disaster. Asked when he planned to stop work on the stormy Monday, he replied, “When it gets bad! Every passenger today asks me that same question.”
Bimpong is also a licensed nursing assistant, for whom an average annual salary is $24,645, according to AllNurses.com, but he says he prefers taxi driving because of the chance of higher income. But Bimbong is often disheartened by days like stormy Monday.
“Every year I quit,” he said.