From the NY Times:
The cabbies huddled beside space heaters in the break room of a garage in Long Island City, Queens, playing a Ghanaian version of checkers before their shifts were to begin.
“Greek. African. Couple of Haitians,” said Stanley Wissak, the longtime president of the cab company, 55 Stan, gesturing toward each yellow taxi driver he passed.
“Mr. Stanley, how you doing?” one cabby asked. Mr. Wissak nodded as the man walked away.
“Egypt,” the boss said.
The American-born cabby, long a stalwart of the industry even as immigrants began to dominate its ranks, has now just about vanished.
Today, only 8 percent of New York City taxi and for-hire drivers were born in the United States, the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission said. According to records released in December by the commission, the dearth is particularly pronounced among yellow taxi drivers; of them, 6 percent are native-born.
The numbers are a far cry from 1980, when 62 percent of taxi and for-hire drivers in New York City were born in the United States, according to Census figures cited in a 2004 report by Schaller Consulting. By 1990, the figure had fallen to 36 percent; by 2000, it was down to 16 percent.
The shift to a near-uniform immigrant work force has had a profound effect on the taxi industry, reshaping the relationship between driver and passenger.
Archetypes of a generation past have largely receded from view: the New York know-it-all, the fledgling actor making do between auditions, the student working his way through college behind the wheel.
Former and current drivers said the trend could be traced in large part to changes in cab leasing terms in the 1970s. With rules that now often require much of a long day’s work — a standard shift is 12 hours — just to cover the daily rental rate, there is far less latitude for students, performers or other young New Yorkers to drive cabs for part of the day as supplemental income.
“I went into this thinking it was a steppingstone to something,” said John McDonagh, 59, a cabby who was raised in Middle Village, Queens. But his more than 35 years as a taxi driver have led him to instead perceive his job as a springboard “to the end of my life.”
Another consequence of the lease changes: Taxi operators were once far more invested in the success of their cabbies.