This was originally a thoroughly well-researched pitch for a sidebar in Mother Jones‘ forthcoming Wall Street/Washington issue, due out in January. I made the first lineup but this narrative piece was dropped in favor of more facts and figures. Disappointing, but I’m glad my work it found a home on MIL.
Rows of sleek, black Lincoln Town Cars idling along the Financial District’s dark and narrow roads were an unavoidable sight in the run up to the financial crisis. Such chariots were necessary to shepherd home Wall Street’s dealmakers after long evenings in the office. But with the deals dried up, out of work bankers have returned to New York’s Subway system, and thousands of drivers have turned in their car keys.
As director of transportation at Lehman Brothers, Donovan Wilson used to operate an in-house call centre to manage the dozen or so car-service vendors the bank employed. He now serves in a similar capacity for Barclays, a smaller bank (even with the additional units from Lehman’s bankruptcy sale), which itself kept only two black car companies from its six-company stable during the boom.
Companies that have managed to hold on to their corporate accounts have also struggled in the wake of the financial crisis. Berg Haroutunian is the owner of Vital Transportation Inc, one of the seven car vendors Merrill Lynch used before its ill-fated merger with Bank of America. Vital still works with the reconfigured bank, but he estimates that business has decreased by about 30%, and 120 of his 440 drivers (all independently contracted) have left “for one reason or another.” Some had their cars repossessed, others have lost their homes.
Even before the recession, the Town Cars’ days on Wall Street were numbered. In February 2008 Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that, starting in October 2009, all of New York’s 10,000 black cars would have to get 25 miles per gallon and 30 the following year. Lincoln Town Cars, which average 17 miles per gallon, wouldn’t have made the cut. Lehman was one of the leading partners in the innovative Green Car Funding Corp set up to help fund the phase-out. While these bubble-era relics have been spared the scrap heap for now, a spokesperson from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission confirmed via e-mail that, although the regulation was deferred for a year “due to the economy’s impact on the industry,” it is still scheduled to go into effect in 2010.
Photo credit: holly_northrop (via Flickr)