Over the last several years, all the news out of the taxi industry has been doom and gloom. An industry that once seemed impervious to competition or risk has been upended. Smartphone apps like Uber and Lyft have opened the floodgates to amateur drivers and new Green taxis have added thousands of cars to the mix.
The price of a New York medallion — which licenses taxis to pick up passengers — remains above $US1 million, by far the most expensive in the country.
Amidst all the hype about Uber, the taxi drivers whose livelihoods depend on the stability of the taxi business get lost in the shuffle. Not for photographer Samyukta Lakshmi, who grew up in Bangalore, India, watching television shows and movies set in New York. For her, the association between the yellow cabs and Manhattan was so strong that she couldn’t think about one without the other.
When Lakshmi moved to New York to study at the International Center of Photography, she decided that photographing taxis and the drivers behind them — many of which are from India — was a perfect way for her to explore New York.
Lakshmi’s work documents an industry in crisis even as the drivers keep on moving forward. She shared some photos from the project with us here, but you can check out more on her website.
To meet taxi drivers, Lakshmi would take taxis often and ask the drivers if she could photograph them. Sometimes, they said yes, but most often they would say no.
The airports turned out to be a great place to meet taxi drivers, because so many have to stand around and wait in a queue for passengers. Here, a man prays during a break.
Lakshmi met Haitian cabdriver Pierre Beauzile through a different cab driver. He was an interesting character.
Prior to driving a cab, Beauzile attended New York University and worked as both a social worker and a real estate agent. After his mother passed away, he started driving because he found it therapeutic.
Lakshmi met other cab drivers at the garages where they pick up and drop off their cars and take many of their breaks. This is the garage at Stan 55, a taxi company in Queens.
Here's another look inside the garage. Queens is a popular place for taxi garages because of the cheaper rent and proximity to the city's airports.
Taxi shifts are long. Drivers work a 12-hour shift from 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m..
At the beginning of the day at Stan 55, mechanic Sani Barra writes out drivers' schedules for the day.
Many taxi drivers start the day by meeting at the same restaurant for breakfast. Lahori Kebab in Curry Hill is a popular spot for these drivers (pictured on the right).
Back in the garage, cab drivers will often hang out before a shift to chat with other drivers and play board games.
The taxi drivers that Lakshmi met were part of a diverse group.According to the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission , only 5.9% of New York cab drivers are American born.
Many of the cab drivers that Lakshmi met had other careers in their home countries before arriving to the United States. She met former bankers, doctors, and a journalist.
Jacqueline Mingo used to work as a corrections officer before she started driving. She works the night shift. Only 1.1% of drivers are female.
Huda Monirul is from Bangladesh. He always brings his guitar with him in the cab so he can play during his break.
Many cab drivers told Lakshmi that they love to drive because they get to meet so many different people.
Cab drivers take multiple breaks during the day to relieve the high-stress of driving in New York City.
After finishing his shift around 4 p.m., Beauzile heads home. According to Lakshmi, most of the cabbies' lives are split between working and spending time with their families. There isn't much time to do anything else.
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