Monday, October 10, 2011

Board Of Supervisors Committee To Hold Hearing On 5% Credit Card Fees Against Taxi Drivers. By Mark Gruberg.

File photo by John Han. 
In case you thought the fight over credit card fees was over, it ain't.  On Thursday, a committee of the Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on a Resolution sponsored by Supervisor David Campos. 

The title of the legislation is "Resolution urging the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to reconsider and abandon the decision to shift the burden of credit merchant charges to the city cab drivers." 

If you're a full-time driver paying 5% (which is far more than others pay for credit processing), these fees are costing you $1,000+ a year -- and as credit use continues to expand, it will be costing you more and more.    
Supervisor Campos first brought this Resolution to the Board several months ago.  The vote was 7-4 in favor, but because Campos opted not to refer it to committee for a hearing, it needed eight votes to pass.  This time, if it is passed out of committee, it will only need a simple majority of six votes at the Board.  (It also would need the mayor's signature.)      
For the record, the vote at the Board was as follows:

For: John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, Malia Cohen, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, Ross Mirkarimi.
Against: Carmen  Chu, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Scott Weiner.
The hearing at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee will take place Thursday, Oct. 13 in Room 263 of City Hall.  The meeting starts at 10, but they're not expected to get to the taxi Resolution before 11 a.m.  Committee members are Campos (Chair), Mark Farrell and David Chiu.
It is extremely important to come to this meeting.  All the momentum we've gained over the past months could be lost if there is a sense that the steam has gone out of driver protests.  We need to send a powerful message that drivers are united and determined to eliminate these fees -- and we need the political support of the Board of Supervisors to pressure the MTA to take this step. 

We cannot take passage of this Resolution for granted.  The fact that it got seven votes the last time is no guarantee that it will get the necessary six this time around.  Cab companies have great influence at the Board, and MTA staff will be working to keep its policy in place.  (Ultimately, we want the MTA Board to overrule staff policy.)            
We can anticipate that the main argument against the Resolution will be the recent meter increase.  But the meter hike was a long-overdue correction after close to nine years without one (except for one 25-cent increase in the drop in 2006).  During that time, gas prices exploded, gates went up substantially, the number of cabs increased (and is about to increase again), and inflation has taken a big slice of our income.  And you can be sure cab companies are already planning their push for the next gate increase.   Unless we get rid of these fees once and for all, they will be on our backs forever. 
You may also hear it said that drivers have alternatives to the 5% companies are charging, by using the Square device or setting up their own merchant accounts.  Don't count on it.  Cab companies have much to gain when drivers use its credit processing system rather than their own.  We are already hearing complaints from companies about drivers who use their own systems, since the company has no record of the transaction, yet hears from the passenger when a dispute arises.  And there is good reason to believe MTA staff is sympathetic to that argument.  The MTA may only be waiting for the dust to clear before prohibiting the use of any device other than the company's credit system.  That means you could get permanently stuck with a 5% charge, plus any additional amounts you may be charged to access  your account.
But the strongest argument against the credit fee falling on the driver is its effect on the public.  Because of these fees, many drivers are discouraging the use of credit.  Some are even refusing to accept credit cards.  This may be against the rules and is not to be condoned, but it is inevitably going to happen.  And when it does, it is pretty much impossible to police or prevent.  

When a driver refuses to take credit, or makes the excuse that the terminal isn't working, the passenger may have to go to an ATM machine,  losing both time and money.  It's inconvenient, it's costly, and it discourages taxi use -- the last thing we want to do.  And it can lead to nasty disputes between passenger and driver that can involve both the company and the MTA.  All of that is avoided if credit charges are processed through and paid for by the company. 
Some drivers feel that passengers should bear credit charges.  I don't personally like the idea, because I believe we want to encourage taxi use and reduce the amount of cash drivers carry for safety reasons.  But I think we can all agree -- drivers and passengers alike -- that forcing the driver to pay is a bad idea.   
We can change this ill-conceived policy.  Come to the hearing.  Support your fellow drivers.  None of us can do it alone, but together we can.  United we'll win!   
Mark Gruberg
United Taxicab Workers
BTW, you can contact all members of the Board of Supervisors by e-mail as follows:  Individual supervisors can be contacted using firstname.lastname  (E.g.,  Eric Mar is   

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