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天價執照泡沫破滅之后:一名紐約出租車司機的死亡

A $750,000 Taxi Medallion, a Driver’s Suicide and a Brother’s Guilt
天價執照泡沫破滅之后:一名紐約出租車司機的死亡

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俯瞰東河的15英畝曼哈頓綠洲——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.

幾個月來,他眼睜睜地看著弟弟、出租車司機肯尼(Kenny)為巨額債務而掙扎??夏嶙兊檬柽h和沮喪?,F在他又失蹤了。
 

出租車司機肯尼·周失蹤后分發的尋人傳單。

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.

理查德先在出租車里搜尋,然后進了公園,在花園、游樂場和彼得·潘的銅像周圍尋找。最后,他報了警。

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.

一場經濟危機席卷了紐約市的出租車行業,破產和人們的絕望情緒不斷蔓延,尤其是在執照勛章——也就是出租車的營運許可證——的持有者當中。超過4000名司機用畢生積蓄購買了它。理查德和肯尼也在其中。

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.

正如《紐約時報》今年報道的那樣,十幾年來,出租車行業領導者人為地抬高了勛章的價格,并且引導購買者背上無力償還的剝削性貸款。勛章泡沫在2014年底開始破裂,價格暴跌。但這些司機仍然背負著巨額貸款。

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.

成千上萬的勛章持有者幾乎都是在美國境外出生的,他們失去了所有積蓄。已有超過950人申請破產。多人自殺身亡。

Richard, then 59, and Kenny, 56, immigrants from Myanmar, had survived difficult times in three countries, always living in the same city and working in the same business. In New York, Richard had gotten Kenny into the taxi industry and persuaded him to buy a medallion, a move they believed would secure their futures.

當時59歲的理查德和56歲肯尼是緬甸移民,曾在三個國家度過艱難時期,兩人總是生活在同一個城市,做同樣的工作。在紐約,理查德把肯尼帶進了出租車行業,并且說服他買了一枚勛章,他們相信,這樣一來他們這輩子就不用愁了。

Richard had looked after Kenny their entire lives. His first memory was of a soccer game when his brother got into an argument and he intervened to protect him from getting beat up.

理查德畢生都在照顧肯尼。他最早的記憶是一場足球賽,當時弟弟卷入爭吵,他上去干預,讓弟弟免遭毒打。

Myanmar was then called Burma, and its capital, where they grew up, was called Rangoon. Richard was Yu Koon Chow; Kenny was Yu Mein Chow. Their family was from China.

緬甸當時還叫Burma,他們兒時生活的首都還叫大光。理查德原名周玉冠(音);肯尼原名周玉敏(音)。他們的家族來自中國。

The family — Richard, Kenny, their parents, their grandparents and their eight other siblings — lived in one ground-floor room with no running water. They slept on plywood on the floor. Sometimes they did not eat for days.

一家人——理查德、肯尼、父母、祖父母和其他8個兄弟姐妹——住在一個沒有自來水的平房里。他們睡在地上的膠合板上,有時一連幾天吃不上飯。

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.

全家于1980年搬到臺灣。兄弟倆進入同一家毛衣用羊毛印染廠工作。他們把大部分收入存起來,不過偶爾也會揮霍一下,去看最新的美國動作片。

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

終于,他們要去美國冒險了。在一個姐姐嫁給一個臺裔美國人后,他們得到了綠卡。

“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,”另一個兄弟喬喬(Jojo)在接受采訪時說。“我們從電影和書里知道它的事。我們夢想去那里。”

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.

1987年9月下旬的一個晚上,幾個兄弟姐妹登上當天從臺北到紐約的最后一班飛機。理查德和肯尼坐在一起。

‘I’m the older brother.’

“我是哥哥。”


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

在肯尼迪機場降落時,周家人一句英語也不會說。

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.

起初,兄弟姊妹和母親一起住在華埠一套兩居室公寓里。很快,他們找到了各自的出路。喬喬搬到了加利福尼亞。一個姊妹搬到了費城。

But for years, Kenny followed Richard.

但是那么多年來,肯尼一直跟著理查德。

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

他們一開始給飯店當送餐員,冒著雨雪送中餐。然后他們進入珠寶行業,做鉆石鑲嵌。

“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。“他得指望我。這是中國的傳統。哥哥要照顧弟弟。”

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.

率先進入出租車行業的也是哥哥。2005年,在朋友的建議下,理查德開始為一個出租車公司開車。他喜歡這個工作,但他討厭在天不亮就得起床上早班。因此,第二年紐約開始拍賣出租車執照勛章時,他參加了競拍。

Richard said he planned to bid about $360,000 until he met with Pearland Brokerage, run by Neil Greenbaum, an influential industry leader. He said a medallion broker with Pearland said the fleet owner Gene Freidman recently had paid $477,000. Richard bid $410,000. He won.

理查德表示,在與皮爾斯蘭經紀公司(Pearland Brokerage)搭上線前,他本打算出價約36萬美元。該公司由頗具影響力的行業領袖尼爾·格林鮑姆(Neil Greenbaum)經營。他說,皮爾斯蘭的一位執照勛章經紀人告訴他,出租車公司所有人吉恩·弗萊德曼(Gene Freidman)最近花了47.7萬美元買勛章。最后理查德出價41萬美元競拍成功。

To pay, Richard agreed to a common financing plan. He borrowed $75,000 from family for fees and a down payment, and he signed a $358,200 loan from Pearland. The deal required him to repay within four years. He did not have a lawyer, records show.

為了付清這筆款項,理查德簽了一個常規的融資計劃。他向家人借了7.5萬美元用于支付手續費和首付,然后與皮爾斯蘭簽下了35.82萬美元的貸款,合同要求他在4年內償還。記錄顯示,他當時沒有律師。

Greenbaum and Pearland did not respond to requests for comment.

格林鮑姆和皮爾斯蘭沒有回復記者的置評請求。

A few years later, when Kenny’s company moved overseas and laid him off, Richard recommended the cab business. Kenny became a driver and, in a few months, started asking about buying a medallion.

幾年后,肯尼的公司搬到海外,解雇了他,理查德向他推薦了出租車行業??夏嵋渤闪顺鲎廛囁緳C,幾個月后,他開始詢問是不是需要買一個執照勛章。

“I took him to Pearland,” Richard said.

“我帶他去了皮爾斯蘭,”理查德說。

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.

那時,執照勛章價格飛漲。像弗萊德曼這樣的大出租車公司老板為增加自己投資組合的價值,故意炒高勛章的價格。放貸人不計后果地發放貸款,就像在房地產泡沫時一樣,寬松的貸款使得價格進一步膨脹。

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.

肯尼無法獲得常規貸款。但他后來告訴朋友,一位經紀人幫他做房產抵押貸款付了首期,解決了這個問題。

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.

2011年8月5日,肯尼在一次私下拍賣中買下了他的執照勛章。距離哥哥買到勛章沒過幾年,但是包括稅費在內,他花了超過了75萬美元。

After his loan hit the four-year mark, when he was supposed to repay everything, the nonprofit Melrose Credit Union 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.

當貸款達到了四年期限,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 Union)打來電話,提出延長貸款期限,并且再借給他15萬美元。他同意了。他說,他把這筆錢用來償還為他支付首付款的家庭。他還說,梅爾羅斯在不到一小時內開出了支票。

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

當執照勛章的價格超過100萬美元時,兩兄弟的妻子哀求他們把勛章賣了。

“I’m not scared,” Kenny said, his brother recalled. “Are you scared?”

“我不害怕,”理查德回憶肯尼當時說。“你怕嗎?”

“No,” Richard said. “I trust the city.”

“不,”理查德說。“我信任這座城市。”

Soon after, the medallion bubble burst.

不久,執照勛章泡沫破裂了。

‘He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work.’

“他睡不著。他沒法工作。


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.

兄弟倆每周工作7天,每月收入只比需要償還的貸款多一點點。理查德要還3500美元;肯尼要還的錢超過了4000美元。

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

隨著優步(Uber)和Lyft等網約車服務越來越受歡迎,他倆的乘客數量和營收都在減少,要維持收支平衡越來越困難。

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.

理查德說,他和肯尼要求貸款機構通融處理,但遭到了拒絕。記錄顯示,梅爾羅斯反而增加了對兩兄弟的限制。

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.

在最初的貸款中,肯尼是唯一的借款人,他的執照勛章是唯一的抵押品。但在2016年,梅爾羅斯將肯尼的妻子列為共同債務人,并擴大了抵押品范圍,包括他們擁有的或未來可能擁有的全部財產??夏岷灹嗣?,至于他是否理解這一變化就不得而知了。他當時沒有請律師。

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

在其監管機構國家信用社管理局(National Credit Union Administration)的壓力下,梅爾羅斯還威脅要在2017年起訴許多執照勛章的所有者。

A review by the city in response to The Times’ series found that Melrose was one of the industry’s least forgiving lenders. The National Credit Union Administration eventually closed it, citing unsafe and unsound practices.

作為對《紐約時報》系列報道的回應,紐約市展開了一項調查,其中顯示梅爾羅斯是該行業最不寬容的貸款機構之一。國家信用社管理局最終關閉了它,理由是它存在不安全、不健康行為。

A spokesman for the credit union agency said he could not comment on the Chows.

信用社管理局的一位發言人說,他不能對周家的事發表評論。

In the fall of 2017, the family received another blow. Doctors diagnosed Kenny’s wife with Stage 4 colon cancer.

2017年秋天,這個家庭又遭受了一次打擊。醫生診斷肯尼的妻子患了4期結腸癌。

Kenny continued driving and paying off his medallion loans, which still totaled $600,000. But he fell far behind on his mortgage and other expenses. He also could no longer help pay his daughter’s college tuition, and she decided to drop out to help the family, a decision that deepened Kenny’s agony.

肯尼繼續開車,還清了那筆總計60萬美元的執照勛章貸款。但他難以支付抵押貸款和其他費用。他也無法再支付女兒的大學學費,于是女兒決定輟學幫助家庭,這個決定加深了肯尼的痛苦。

“He got depressed,” said Wain Chin, an owner-driver and family friend. “He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t work. He had to go to the hospital all the time. He had always been quiet, but he got even quieter.”

“他很沮喪,”這家人的朋友、擁有執照勛章的司機韋恩·秦(Wain Chin,音)說。“他睡不著。他沒法工作。他不得不經常去醫院。他一向沉默寡言,但是現在更沉默了。”

‘I’m very scared.’

“我很害怕。”


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.

2018年5月11日肯尼失蹤的那個晚上,理查德抱著一線希望。他知道開車很累,所以他以為弟弟只是躺下沉沉睡去了?;蛘呷プ鲒は胫委熈?,又或者是去賺外快了。

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公布了這起案子。他分發海報:“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。”

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.”

第二天,一個電視記者敲開肯尼的門,問他的妻子是否認為他還活著。“我不知道,”她流著淚說。“我很害怕。”

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.

5月23日,有人在布魯克林大橋附近的東河邊發現了一具尸體,位于肯尼的出租車被丟棄的公園以南6英里處。當局用了三天時間才根據牙醫記錄確認死者是肯尼。

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。“我愛我弟弟,”他哭著說。“他非常努力。他愛家人。這就是我想說的。”

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.

由于合同變化,肯尼的妻子也被列為共同債務人,肯尼去世后,她繼承了他的貸款。但這并沒有令她痛苦很久。她只比丈夫晚幾個月去世。他們的女兒沒有被這筆貸款所困,已經回到大學。她今年23歲。

‘He has turned his grief into armor.’

“他化悲痛為鎧甲。”


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.

一個人自殺的原因可能永遠無從得知。但朋友們認為,肯尼被貸款和網約車服務的競爭壓垮了。紐約市無視不良貸款行為,允許優步和Lyft侵蝕出租車司機的地盤,因此,他們認為,肯尼把出租車停在傳統的市長官邸格雷西大廈兩個街區外的地方并不是巧合。

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.

白思豪(Bill de Blasio)市長的發言人指出,他是2014年上任的。“我們首先采取的行動之一是叫停執照勛章的銷售,我們是最早也是最積極地要求遏制優步等公司快速增長的聲音之一,”發言人說。

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。“肯尼·周和其他司機的死深深地觸動了我們,”海因策說。

In the days after Kenny’s death, taxi industry leaders seized on the brothers’ story. One group tapped Richard to headline an event for reporters called “How Many More Have to Die?” Another made him the voice of a television ad that asked the New York City Council to cap Uber and Lyft. (The council approved the cap in August 2018.) Even after other drivers died, the Chows continued to serve as the symbol of the devastation.

肯尼去世幾天后,出租車行業的領導者們注意到這對兄弟的故事。一個組織讓理查德在一個名為“還有多少人要死去?”的媒體活動中擔任主角。還有一個組織讓他為一則要求紐約市議會限制優步和Lyft的電視廣告代言。(議會于2018年8月批準了這項限制。)盡管并不是唯一死去的司機,周家兄弟仍然是這場災難的象征。

Richard has attended hearings on the crisis in Manhattan, Albany, New York, and Washington, each one a painful reminder. He usually sits in the front row. He often cries.

理查德參加了在曼哈頓、奧爾巴尼、紐約和華盛頓舉行的有關這場危機的聽證會,每一次都是一種痛苦的提醒。他通常坐在第一排。他經???。

“He is a tireless warrior for our movement,” said Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which represents cabdrivers. “He has turned his grief into armor to protect fellow drivers.”

“他在不知疲倦地為我們這場運動而戰,”代表出租車司機的紐約出租車工人聯盟(New York Taxi Workers Alliance)的巴依拉維·德賽依(Bhairavi Desai)說。“他把悲傷化為保護其他司機的盔甲。”

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.

如今,理查德仍在為償還自己的貸款而苦苦掙扎。他欠了40.2萬美元,他說,每月償還2766美元非常艱難。他無法養活女兒和19歲的兒子,兩人都在上學。

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

他說,官方正在考慮救助執照勛章所有者,如果他們做不到,他計劃宣布破產。

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

目前,理查德每周工作七天,通常是從上午10點到午夜。

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

每天他都會經由布魯克林大橋去上班,在弟弟喪命的那條河上駛過。
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