Good morning. It’s Monday. Today we’ll go for a ride in the two oldest taxis still on the streets of New York City. They are 12 years old. We’ll also find out why the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan says that control over the Rikers Island jails should be taken away from the city.
Haroon Abdullah in his Ford Crown Victoria taxicab.Credit…James Barron/The New York Times
In the 12 years since Ravinder Sharma bought his taxi — a 2011 Ford Crown Victoria — he has driven more than 550,000 miles, enough to circle the Earth 22 times at the equator.
Only one other taxi that old is still carrying passengers in New York, according to the city agency that regulates cabs. That taxi, which sat unsold on a dealer’s lot in the Bronx until Haroon Abdullah found it in 2013, has racked up a mere 491,000 miles.
The agency, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, says that neither car should be on the road. The reason: Both cabs are long past the seven-year retirement age for taxis.
The two drivers have dates for administrative hearings — Abdullah on Friday, Sharma on Dec. 8 — to answer summonses issued after they skipped taxi inspections in the last few months. Had the taxis undergone inspections, their meters could have been seized because of the age rule, making the cars unusable as for-hire vehicles.
Now, if the drivers lose at their hearings, the taxi agency could send a wireless signal to shut down their meters automatically. The two drivers could also face failure-to-inspect fines of up to $500, and their licenses could be suspended, the agency said.
A spokesman for the agency said that the two Crown Victorias were “the last of their kind,” but that they needed to go. “As it was with the Model Ts, Checkers and Caprices before them, their final act of safety must be a well-earned retirement,” the spokesman, Jason Kersten, said.
Like many New Yorkers, Kersten said he had pleasant memories of Crown Victorias: As a college student in the 1990s, he used one as a moving van and loaded everything he owned into the trunk. Now, even Sharma and Abdullah acknowledge that their cabs are antiques. “You know you are in a classic taxi,” Sharma said, as his Crown Victoria — stately, commanding and majestic — glided up the Avenue of the Americas in Midtown Manhattan. “I love this car.”
He and Abdullah have kept up their cars — they are shiny and quiet, even if weathered. Still, when the two Crown Victorias were new, Barack Obama was president; Michael Bloomberg was mayor; and more than 7,400 other Crown Victoria cabs of varying ages roamed the streets of New York — more than half of the yellow taxis then in the city.
The Crown Victorias are old-school sedans with thirsty engines. Federal rankings show that the 2011 Crown Victoria averaged 16 miles per gallon in city driving. Abdullah said he got 15 to 16 miles per gallon in the city and 17 to 18 miles per gallon on highway runs with airport passengers. Sharma said he did not do such calculations. “I don’t think about the gas,” he said. “I’m 64. I raised my children. I just drive.”
Abdullah said he bought his Crown Victoria after his previous taxi was flooded in Hurricane Sandy while parked outside his house in Howard Beach, Queens. This one sat on the high ground of a car dealer’s lot in the Bronx until 2013, when he paid just over $21,000 for it.
Both drivers say that their cars passed recent state inspections, but that they skipped the required taxi inspections rather than risk losing their cars and their livelihoods. Kersten, the taxi commission spokesman, said that both drivers had been given pandemic extensions to allow them to keep driving their Crown Victorias.
Abdullah said that he wanted a Toyota Siena, a minivan, but could not afford the $30,000 down payment. “I’m behind on my mortgage,” he said. “I’m behind on my bills. If they don’t allow me to drive this car, I won’t make the income I need to buy a new car.”
Sharma said he would ask the taxi commission to let him continue driving his Crown Victoria for at least a few more months, until he turns 65. “I’m thinking if they allow me to drive, I drive,” Sharma said. “If they don’t, I take my Social Security and retire.” He said he was under financial pressure from owning four taxi medallions and losing his savings when the medallion bubble burst in 2014.
Sharma said he had driven almost two million miles since he became a cabdriver in the 1980s. “It’s a lot of mileage,” he said. “If they let me drive, I’ll drive. If not, I did 35 years.”
It’s a sunny day in the mid-40s, with a partly cloudy evening dropping to the mid-30s.
In effect until Thursday (Thanksgiving Day).
The latest New York news
Police radio upgrades not open to the public: The Police Department is spending $500 million on a new radio system it calls more reliable and secure. But the public will no longer be able listen in.
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U.S. asks judge to take control of Rikers away from New York
The federal government formally joined an effort to strip New York City’s control over Rikers Island, asking a judge to give oversight of the troubled jail complex to an outside authority, known as a receiver.
Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, joined lawyers who represent people detained in New York City jails in a court filing that said the only solution to the continuing chaos at Rikers was to appoint a receiver. Williams said in July that an outside authority was needed to correct “a collective failure with deep roots, spanning multiple mayoral administrations” and prosecutors.
The judge who will decide on a takeover, Laura Taylor Swain of Federal District Court, said that the administration of Mayor Eric Adams had failed to “address the dangerous conditions that perpetually plague the jails.” In August, she set a schedule for federal prosecutors and detainees’ lawyers to argue in favor of receivership. The filings on Friday were the first step in that process.
Williams’s filing, along with those from the Legal Aid Society and a private law firm that represents people detained at Rikers, comes as the city faces renewed pressure to show improvements in conditions at the troubled complex. City Hall announced last month that the jails commissioner, Louis Molina, would leave that job by the middle of this month to become the assistant deputy mayor for public safety. Adams has not named his successor.
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the city’s Law Department, said over the weekend that the Adams administration had made progress to address longstanding problems at Rikers and that receivership was not the solution.
Frustrated by an interminable apartment search, I stopped into a shoe store on the Upper West Side for a diversion.
As I sat down, a woman nearby turned to me.
“Do these shoes make me look old?” she asked quietly.
“Of course not,” I said. “They look great on you.”
She mentioned that she lived on the Upper East Side but used to come to the store with her late husband.
She asked where I lived. I said that my lease had not been renewed because of what I considered corporate greed and that I had been living in a hotel for the past two months.
She said her building’s management company had three rental properties. I took the company’s name and thanked her.
After she left the store, I looked at the shoes she had tried on. I asked for a pair in my size. They were perfect.
Back at the hotel an hour later, I looked up the management company online and did not see any available listings. I sent a note anyway, advising of my interest and explaining what I was looking for in a new place.
Two days later, I received a response about a brand-new listing. Two days after that, I saw the place.
“I’ll take it!” I said after about five minutes.
— Joan Hershey
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword and Spelling Bee. You can find all our puzzles here.
Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].