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N.Y. Cabbies Stage Hunger Strike for More Aid: ‘We’re Not Backing Down’

For months, Ms. Desai and her supporters have been pushing their own proposal, which calls for all lenders to agree to lower all medallion loans to $145,000 in return for a guarantee from the city that it will pay for any driver who defaults on a loan. The group estimates this will increase the city’s cost for the relief package by another $93 million.

Over time, the group has held increasingly dramatic demonstrations, blocking bridges and camping outside City Hall around the clock for 43 days straight, and counting.

The group also received a boost earlier this year when Randal Wilhite, a lawyer with a nonprofit organization working on the city relief fund, began speaking out against it, saying lenders were either not offering much debt relief or were refusing to participate altogether. Afterward, city officials asked that he stop working on the plan; the nonprofit ultimately suspended him from working on all its projects because he had spoken to the media.

The protest effort has also been fueled by the industry’s ongoing crisis. Passengers have begun returning to yellow cabs, but business is still far below where it was before the pandemic. In September, the last month for which city data is available, there were 50 percent fewer cabs operating than before the pandemic, and the industry made 52 percent less revenue, according to city data.

Among those joining in the group’s hunger strike is Richard Chow, a driver and the brother of Kenny Chow, a driver who faced enormous debt and died by suicide.

In an interview, Mr. Chow said he felt weak and dizzy but would push on until the city agrees to help the drivers.

In recent days, the group has received more support, as people have rallied around Mr. Chow and the others. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat, recently visited the protesters at City Hall, as did the actor Kal Penn, among others.

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