On a corner of 86th Street and East End Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday, three posters for a missing man were still hanging on a lamp post about a block from the East River.
That was where the police found the man’s parked taxicab, the biggest investment of his life. The man, Yu Mein Chow, had taken out a loan seven years ago to buy a $700,000 medallion that gave him the right to operate a cab.
Mr. Chow, 56, who lived in Queens and went by the nickname “Kenny,” disappeared on May 11. His body was found floating in the East River about nine miles south, near the Brooklyn Bridge, on Wednesday. Friends and family members believe Mr. Chow jumped to his death, adding to a string of apparent suicides of traditional taxi and livery drivers in the city. It marked the fifth suicide in just over five months. The medical examiner has not yet determined a cause of death.
New York City’s cab industry, dependent on the market value of the once-coveted taxi medallion, has been upended by the proliferation of Uber and other ride-sharing services. Drivers have been demanding changes at City Hall to protect their livelihood, but at least five cabbies have buckled under the strain of debt since December as others describe working 12- and 14-hour shifts to make up for the lost income. One driver shot himself in February outside City Hall after leaving a message on Facebookblaming the industry’s demise on politicians.
On Sunday, Richard Chow, Mr. Chow’s older brother, went to the street where the police found the taxi as part of a vigil that drew dozens of the driver’s friends and fellow cabbies on a bleak afternoon. He climbed the stone steps of nearby Carl Schurz Park and headed toward the iron fence on an esplanade that overlooks the river. “I loved my brother. He was very hard working. He loved his family,” Mr. Chow managed to say before his voice broke and his eyes teared up. “That’s all I want to say.”
The medallion system was created to limit the number of cabdrivers, but ride-sharing apps have rendered it useless, said Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York City Taxi Workers Alliance. Last year, data showed that more people used Uber than yellow cabs in the city. Once sold for more than $1 million, taxi medallions are now selling for as little as $175,000, according to data collected by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.
Ms. Desai said she has been transformed into a part-time counselor to despondent drivers who call her in the wee hours of the morning and a part-time eulogist who talks to family and friends to share the stories of the deceased.
Born in Burma, Yu Mein Chow did not immediately take up taxi driving as a profession when he first moved to the United States as a young man. He became a jeweler, Ms. Desai said.
When the business he worked for closed, she said, “He had to reinvent himself. That’s when he started to drive a taxi cab.”
Mr. Chow bought a medallion in 2011, just as Uber was beginning to operate in New York City. By last year, Mr. Chow was realizing that his $700,000 investment was not paying off. He could not afford his daughter’s college education. He could not afford the medical bills after his wife was diagnosed with cancer, Ms. Desai said.
Ms. Desai said Mr. Chow went to make a payment on his medallion loan a few days before he went missing. His credit card was declined.
On Sunday, mourners bowed their heads three times to honor their friend. Richard Chow grabbed a red flower and a white flower and walked toward the iron fence that divides the city from the choppy waters of the East River. More people followed, and together they threw flowers into the river.
Behind them, new posters they had hung on a pole read: “Rest in Peace. Beloved father, husband, brother, friend, NYC taxi driver.”