Sunday, April 10, 2011

SFMTA Listens To Taxi Drivers... For Now. By John Han

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) said Tuesday, that it will discuss further the concern amongst drivers, over cab companies passing 5% credit card fees onto taxi drivers, and driver privacy rights surrounding the implementation of electronic waybills. 

At its April 5 full Board meeting, an estimate of 50-60 cab drivers made the presence felt during general public comment, some of them filling the overflow room.

San Francisco taxi driver Tariq Mehmood was amongst the first to deliver an outcry, saying MTA and Taxi Services Division had failed to inform the vast majority of taxi workers adequately about implementations of the new policies. 

“I have come to speak on my behalf and all the little people, the taxi drivers!” Mehmood exclaimed, to the applause of the drivers.  “Last time when you passed the rules about electronic waybills they were unaware [of] what’s going on in the back, because the Taxi Director never published it properly to let all the people know.”  More applause.

In an equally impassioned plea, Mark Gruberg of the United Taxi Workers and Co-Founder of Green Cab, said cab companies like Yellow have succeeded in convincing the MTA to authorize company profits from the credit card fees, fees that are soon to be passed through to drivers.

Current regulations prohibit cab companies from charging back their drivers for credit card transactions.  However, citing rising costs from the increases in credit card use, MTA had fairly recently authorized a waiver to the cab companies, thus allowing now up to 5% charge backs to drivers for all credit card transactions.  It is a pass through.  As part of the deal, companies must be able to produce electronic waybills for the MTA that can pinpoint locations, trip information, and details about fares about all drivers. 

But Gruberg says companies like Yellow are not using the new waiver simply to recover its costs. 

“Yellow is working through a company called Yellow Credit Services Inc.”, Gruberg said.

“I have it on good authority that they are getting a kickback from that company.  They are exploiting their drivers!  The thing has been turned completely inside out.  Not only do they not have to pay anything, but they are actually making a profit off their drivers’ processing of credit cards, and that is this agency’s doing and nobody else!”

MTA’s cap on the 5% charge backs is allegedly tied with a successful, and politically influential lobbying effort, able to sway City Hall to allow rear seat “Taxi Tvs” in all the City’s cabs, like in New York.  The Tvs are said to display video advertisements to all passengers in the back seat every time a driver turns on the meter.  Yellow Cab says it expects to have the Tvs installed in all of its cabs by April 15, 2011.  According to other reports, Luxor Cab will meet a similar or same deadline.

Mary McGuire, a medallion holder and past member of the Taxi Commission, questioned the directors at Tuesday’s meeting as to why the Board had not publicly discussed credit card fees before, seeing how the policies are now a done deal.  She stressed that not only would electronic waybills invade drivers’ privacy, but credit card processing would intrude as well, possibly more. 

“My day driver called to check his balance with Verifone, it’s a firm called Load-N-Go.” McGuire said.  “And a woman answered, and he said it sounded like she was in her kitchen making dinner.  I find that weird… is she working from home?  Do you really want to give your social security number to… to who?”   

McGuire also urged that MTA first conduct a study to determine what health effects could impact drivers exposed to excessive periods of low-level radiation from the Tvs.

The Board responded.

Director Malcolm Heinicke said that although cabs accepting credit card payments is a good thing and mustn’t change, he said he was left with more questions than answers about how to implement them after listening to the drivers. 

“I’ve heard the drivers.”  Heinicke said.  It seems like an issue where something isn’t quite working from my perspective.”  He recommended that the Taxi Advisory Council should revisit the policies.

“If the determination is made that the 5% is going to be borne by the driver for whatever reason, and I’m not saying we’ve made that decision, then that may be a factor in favor of a fare increase”, he added. 

The Board’s main advocate for disabled people, Director Bruce Oka, acknowledged the lack of true and fair voice of the 7500 or so taxi workers is a problem in the City. 

“Something we are doing is going haywire.  I want to know what it is that’s causing all these drivers to be almost at the point of explosion.  No matter what we do with the make up of our Taxi Advisory Council, taxi drivers are not going to be fairly represented because there are 7500 cab drivers in the City”, he said. 

“How the heck do we give fair representation of that number on a Taxi Advisory Council?”

The SFMTA said it will schedule a full public hearing on the matters but no date has been set. 


  1. Hey John,
    When the TAC first discussed this issue,our hands were tied by the fact that we were not allowed to even consider passing on the processing costs to the end user— the public. The SFMTA communicated through Chris Hayashi that the public option was off the table. Apparently, the credit card companies don't allow that and will deny its implementation. Nonetheless, if I get a parking ticket and want to pay it online, there is a service charge added to the amount of the ticket. That is a convenience fee. How can the SFMTA charge THAT fee if the credit card companies don't allow such pass-throughs? Society is moving away from paper money and I'm all in favor of taking credit cards, but it makes little sense to essentially penalize the driver. When the price of oil goes up, and gas prices rise shortly thereafter, soon enough, the price of milk rises a bit to offset the increased cost of doing business vis-a-vis, transportation costs. Cab passengers are not required to pay with credit cards —cash still works fine— so if they opt to use a card, they should be assessed a convenience fee. They can pay with cash to avoid the convenience fee; they have choice and control, whereas cabbies have neither.
    Regarding Heinicke's statement that this issue is reason to review a gate increase: Thanks for the bisquit, but the fact that there hasn't been a gate increase in eight years is reason enough. In those eight years, MUNI drivers have gotten eight pay raises to insure they remain the second-highest paid in the nation. We get nothing; no benefits, and no consideration, because we as individuals are weak.
    Driver's, it is time to organize to make our voices louder to those in power. While the SFMTA views us as a vital element of public transit, they treat us like dog poop jammed into the sole of their boots. Tickets for using our hazard lights when stopping? Nonsense! Pulling into bike lanes to drop off? Nonsense! Even the bike coalition prefers that option over cab passengers suddenly opening doors into the bike lane. Illegal limo and taxi enforcement? I saw EIGHT motorcycle cops pull over ONE Limo in North Beach on a Saturday night and spend about an hour dealing with it. That's a tremendous waste of resources to give one driver a ticket that the judge eventually reduces to $185 in court. When drivers renew their A-Cards —another debacle— this year with long lines, increased fees, and reduced days of operation — a certain portion goes to the police for enforcement issues. Cabbies would like that money spent to PROTECT them from unfair and illegal competition rather than penalize them for trying to pull over safely.

  2. Very well said, Bill! Why the hell we SF cab drivers can't put up a united front when each and every one of us is going to suffer due to these ridiculous implementations? Can't these different Unions forget their differences and join hands for once to actually work for the betterment of our industry?

  3. Heinecke is perhaps in favor of a fare increase, but only because there might be a new fee burden to the drivers in the form of a credit card charge?
    Again it is clear he doesn't think straight: he should be in favor of a meter increase, BECAUSE WE HAVE NOT GOTTEN A REAL RAISE IN PAY FOR NINE YEARS! It is amazing how little he actually thinks about the drivers. He could not be more of the "Evil Tyrant" character if he tried.
    Also, drivers should NEVER FORGET THE MEDICAL PLAN, that they are ALREADY paying for every day that they pay their current gates, according to the City legislation that the City simply decided not to implement. NEVER FORGET THE MEDICAL PLAN!

  4. Hey Bill,

    Great rant but mostly beside the point.

    1. The main culprit in our inability to pass on credit card to the customers is Visa who has threatened to sue if the city tries to do so. They are too big to fight.

    2. You're a bit out of date on the bike coalition. I understand that they have agreed to let us park in the bike lanes (thanks to CH) - at least that was the upshot of a CAC meeting I attended.

    3. I don't hink they are handing out those tickets anymore (thanks to CH)

    4.As for the limo enforcement ... it's refreshing to hear that they've actually pulled a limo over no matter how many cops it took. The stopped out such tickets last year after I wrote the following posts and sent them to Chief Murphy

    I also suspect that the flasher wars might be more retaliation for my articles. After all they cost Murphy and his boys $700,000 worth of overtime.

    Anyway I think this bs is over too - thanks, or course, to CH.


  5. Hey Ed,

    Your comments in #2 & #3 about the Bicycle Coalition and the bike lane tickets along Embarcadero are not totally accurate. First off, you say that the Bicycle Coalition has agreed to let us park in the bike lanes. If that's so, then your statement on that is not a correction of what Bill just said, because that's what Bill just said... that the Bicycle Coalition prefer that we park in the bike lane. Read Bill's comment over again. You two are actually in agreement on that.

    As for the fact that you don't think they're handing out those tickets anymore, well... think that the sky is yellow and the sun is blue if you want but it's not based on facts. I'll keep my source confidential, but I have quite a reliable source that says these bike lane tickets are still being issued regularly to drivers. The hype around them has died down because the tickets aren't coming in at the extraordinary volumes that they did months ago. But they're still being issued regularly.

  6. The reason Healy Keeps singing the praises of CH is because he has the HOTS for her.

  7. Hey Fellow Drivers,

    Lets all unite and hire a kick ass law firm to suit the SFMTA for all the issues listed on this page. In addition to everything you guys listed on here, we should not let the SFMTA give the right to fine taxi drivers for reasons relating to customer complains via the 311 number.


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