Driver competition hot as NYC taxi medallions hit $766,000

After more than a decade of leasing a medallion, Victor Salazar, 45, who moved to New York from Ecuador in 1991, took out a loan in 2004 to buy a medallion for $305,000. Salazar, who drives regular night shifts, says owning a medallion is essential to making taxi-driving a career.

"Other drivers have to worry about catching up to pay the lease," Salazar says. "There is a lot of stress. I know, because I used to be one of them."

Daus says the financing provided by Medallion Financial is key for many cabbies to make that transition to ownership, and that the company's mission seems to be "helping people achieve the American dream."

Former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who sits on Medallion Financial's board of directors, agrees.

"There's no question that many immigrants — my parents included — came here without any substantial backing of education or people who could provide funds, or the sophistication required to go into business," Cuomo says. "Being able to own a taxi is a quick way into business. It is an opportunity for them to be their own bosses."

Murstein knows the story well. His grandfather Leon Murstein, an Argentinean immigrant who started the family business decades ago, amassed a fleet of 500 medallions after purchasing his first in Queens in 1937.

Medallions went for $10 that year.

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