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NEW YORK — Richard Chow discovered his younger brother’s taxi abandoned outside Carl Schurz Park, a 15-acre Manhattan oasis overlooking the East River. He began to panic.

紐約——理查德·周(Richard Chow)發現弟弟的出租車被遺棄在卡爾·舒爾茨公園外。他開始緊張起來。

For months, he had watched his brother and fellow cabdriver, Kenny, struggle under enormous debt. Kenny had grown distant and despondent. Now he had disappeared.

Richard searched the taxi and then the park, scouring around the gardens, the playgrounds and a bronze statue of Peter Pan. Finally, he called the police.


An economic crisis has swept over New York City’s taxi industry, spreading financial ruin and personal despair, especially for owners of medallions, the permits that let people operate cabs.


More than 4,000 drivers have used their life savings to buy medallions. Richard and Kenny were among them.


For more than a decade, as The New York Times has reported this year, taxi industry leaders artificially inflated medallion prices and channeled purchasers into exploitative loans that they could not afford. The medallion bubble began to collapse in late 2014. Prices plummeted. But the drivers remained stuck with massive loans.


Thousands of owners, almost all born outside the United States, have lost all of their savings. More than 950 have filed for bankruptcy. And several have died by suicide.


The family moved to Taiwan in 1980. The brothers got jobs at the same factory, dyeing wool for sweaters. They saved most of their earnings, but occasionally they splurged on a trip to the movies to see the latest American action film.


Eventually, they pursued their own American adventure. After an older sister married a Taiwanese American, they got green cards.


“We wanted to go to United States because we heard it was the best place,” another brother, Jojo, said in an interview. “We heard about it in movies, in books. We dreamed of going there.”

“我們想去美國,因為我們聽說那里是最好的地方,”理查德另一個兄弟喬喬(Jojo)在接受采訪時說?!拔覀儚碾娪昂蜁镎J識的美國。我們夢想去美國?!?br />
One night in late September 1987, several of the siblings boarded the last flight of the day from Taipei to New York. Richard and Kenny sat next to each other.


When the Chows landed at Kennedy Airport, they did not speak any English.


At first, the siblings lived with their mother in a two-bedroom apartment in Chinatown. Soon, they forged their own paths. Jojo moved to California. A sister moved to Philadelphia.


But for years, Kenny followed Richard.


They began as restaurant deliverymen, fighting the rain and snow to deliver Chinese food. Then they joined the jewelry business, as diamond setters.


“I’m the older brother,” Richard said in an interview. “He looking at me. It’s Chinese tradition. The older brother takes care of young brother.”

“我是哥哥,”理查德在接受采訪時說?!拔乙疹櫵?。這是中國的傳統。哥哥要照顧弟弟?!?br />
The older brother entered the taxi industry first, too. He started driving for a fleet in 2005, after a friend suggested it. He liked the job, but he hated waking before sunrise for his shift. So the next year, when the city sold medallions at auctions, he bid.


By then, medallion prices were skyrocketing. Large fleet owners like Freidman were intentionally overpaying for medallions to increase the value of their portfolios. Lenders were issuing reckless loans, and as in the housing bubble, the easy money inflated prices more.


The younger brother could not secure a conventional loan. But he later told friends that a broker helped him to leverage the equity in his house for a down payment to make it work.


Kenny bought his medallion at a private sale on Aug. 5, 2011. It was only a few years after his brother’s purchase. But including the taxes and fees, it cost more than $750,000.


After his loan hit the four-year mark, when he was supposed to repay everything, the nonprofit Melrose Credit unx called and offered to extend his loan and lend him an additional $150,000. He agreed. He said he used the money to repay the family who had covered his down payment. Melrose issued the check in less than an hour, he added.

當貸款達到四年期限,他應該償還所有債務時,非營利組織梅爾羅斯信用合作社(Melrose Credit unx)打來電話,提出延長貸款期限,并且再借給他15萬美元。

When medallion prices passed $1 million, the wives implored the brothers to sell.


“I’m not scared,” Kenny said, his brother recalled. “Are you scared?”
“No,” Richard said. “I trust the city.”
Soon after, the medallion bubble burst.
‘He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work.’

“不,”理查德說?!拔倚湃芜@座城市?!?br /> 不久,營運執照的泡沫破裂了,價格直線下跌。
理查德回憶說,弟弟開始睡不著。也沒法工作?!?br />
The brothers worked seven days a week, and they only made a little more than they needed for their monthly loan payments. Richard’s was $3,500; Kenny’s was more than $4,000.


The math got tougher as ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft grew in popularity, reducing their riders and revenues.


Richard said he and Kenny asked for leniency on their loan payments and were rebuffed. Instead, records show, Melrose moved to tighten its grip on the Chows.


Kenny’s original loans listed him as the sole borrower, and his medallion as the only collateral.


But in 2016, Melrose added Kenny’s wife as a co-debtor and expanded the collateral to include everything they owned or would ever own. Kenny signed, although it is unclear if he understood the change. He did not have a lawyer.


Melrose, under pressure from its regulator, the National Credit unx Administration, also threatened to sue many medallion owners in 2017.

最后,在監管機構國家信用社管理局(National Credit unx Administration)的壓力下,梅爾羅斯信用社威脅要在2017年起訴許多營運執照的持有者。

On the night that Kenny disappeared, May 11, 2018, Richard clung to hope. He knew driving could be exhausting, so he thought his brother had lain down and fallen into a deep slumber. Or maybe he went on a meditation retreat, or on a hunt for extra money.


After a week, Richard led a news conference to publicize the case. He distributed posters: “MISSING: 5 feet 6 inches tall. Weight about 140 lbs. Last seen wearing white T-shirt and khaki pants.”

一周后,理查德召開新聞發布會,通報了弟弟失蹤的情況。他還到處分發尋人啟事:“失蹤者身高5英尺6英寸。體重約140磅。最后看到時身穿白色T恤和卡其褲?!?br />
The next day, a television reporter knocked on Kenny’s door and asked his wife if she thought he was alive. “I have no idea,” she said through tears. “I’m very scared.”

“我不知道,”肯尼的妻子流著淚說?!拔液芎ε??!?br />
On May 23, someone spotted a body in the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge, six miles south of the park where Kenny’s cab had been abandoned. It took the authorities three days to confirm the body was Kenny, using dental records.


At a vigil, Richard could barely speak. “I loved my brother,” he said as he wept. “He was very hardworking. He loved his family. That’s all I want to say.”

悼念儀式上的理查德幾乎說不出話來?!拔覑畚业艿?,”他哭著說?!八浅EΦ墓ぷ?。他愛家人。這就是我想說的?!?br />
Because of the change listing Kenny’s wife as a co-debtor, she inherited his loan when he died. But it did not torment her for long. She died a few months after her husband. Their daughter, who did not get entrapped in the loan, has returned to college. She is now 23.


It is impossible to know why anyone takes his or her own life. But friends believe Kenny was overwhelmed by his loans and by competition from ride-hailing. They do not think it was a coincidence that he left his cab two blocks from Gracie Mansion, the traditional home of the mayor, in a city that had ignored bad lending practices and allowed Uber and Lyft to encroach.


A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio noted he did not take office until 2014. “One of our first actions was halting medallion sales, and we were one of the first and most ardent voices for curbing the rapid growth of corporations like Uber,” she said.


Bill Heinzen, who has been the acting head of the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission since March, released a statement that mentioned that his own brother had died by suicide. “The death of Kenny Chow and other drivers deeply affected us,” Heinzen said.

自今年3月以來,一直擔任紐約市出租車委員會代主席的比爾·海因策(Bill Heinzen)發表了一份聲明,其中提到他自己也有個兄弟自殺身亡?!翱夏帷ぶ芎推渌緳C的死深深地觸動了我們,”海因策說。

Today, Richard is still struggling to pay his own loan. He owes $402,000, and he said it is hard to make the $2,766 monthly payments. He cannot support his daughter and his son, 19, who are both in school.


He said if officials do not bail out medallion owners, as they are now considering, he plans to declare bankruptcy.


For now, Richard works seven days a week, typically from 10 a.m. until midnight.


Every day, to get to work, he takes the Brooklyn Bridge, driving over the river where his younger brother took his last breath.