MTA Board of Directors meeting,Tuesday, December 6,
2011. Image from SFGovTV.
The MTA Board of Directors, (Municipal Transportation Agency), revisited 5% credit card fees, rear seat passenger information monitors (PIMs), and electronic waybills at its Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 regular meeting.
This was item #16 on the agenda and was for discussion only. In it, Nelson Nygaard presented its report on the three topics.
The Board also voted 4-2 in favor of item #17, which includes expanding the Medallion Sales Pilot Program, by dropping the sellers' age requirement from 70 years old to 65. Now, medallion holders who are at least 65 years old instead of 70, and have a full-time driving requirement, or who have acquired a disability and are unable to drive, can now be eligible to sell their medallions under the pilot program.
According to MTA Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi, there are currently about 135 medallion holders between the ages of 65 and 70 in San Francisco. But that number includes both Pre K and Prop K holders combined. And since Item #17, which passed, temporarily eliminates Pre K holders from being qualified as sellers, it's uncertain how many new sellers that would mean. But it would be less than 135.
Hayashi added that out of the pool of those newly eligible sellers, there's no guarantee that all would likely want to sell their medallions right away.
“The medallion represents a monthly financial benefit that some people don't want to lose.”, she said.
Here are some of the highlights of the discussion.
On Item #16: The Nelson/Nygaard Study of Credit Card Processing, Electronic Waybills and Back Seat Monitors in San Francisco Taxicabs.
Chairman of the MTA Board of Directors Tom Nolan...
“I'm persuaded that the 5% fee that we're charging is too high. I think that ought to be rolled back. I'm not sure where the right level is. Just because New York is doing it doesn't mean we should be doing it. That's not a good enough reason, I don't think.”
Nolan also shared that he enjoyed the back seat monitor when he rode in a taxi, including the map feature.
Director Malcolm Heinicke...
“Can we use a competitive bid process such as an RFP to address really what are the two main issues we as a board have been confronting which is any way to bring that 5% on the drivers down, and any way to better the experience for the customer... giving them the more choices to say, 'turn down the brightness', 'turn down the volume'. To me it makes sense to proceed with this with some sort of competitive process that takes into account all of the comments our staff have gotten, but maybe focusing particularly on those two, in an effort to see if competition will get us a better rate for our drivers, and a better option for our customers. And I think we should proceed.”
Heinicke also said...
“I just feel obliged to note – that if you choose to make ad hominem attacks on our staff, and particularly one person who's working very hard to bring harmony into this industry, it makes us, or at least me, not really value the rest of what you say. If you have an argument on the merits, make it on the merits. And we'll listen and engage as I think you've heard today.”
Director Bruce Oka...
“Credit card charges at 5% are too much. I think they should be brought down to 2, 2 ½, at best 3%. And at that, I think we can make it so that people enjoy their ride.”
Director Leona Bridges...
“I think the 5% at this point is steep. I think we should evaluate that. I'm not sure what the breaking point is, and I'd leave that up to our finance staff to come back to us and do an evaluation to let us know maybe where the break even is, and what we should do as a recommendation. But I think having the 5% at this point is a little steep. And I too agree that we don't have to be the same as New York or any other City, but we should be a leader in ourselves. San Francisco is a pilot city just like New York. So we could probably look at the standards and set standards just like any other city.”
Bridges also said she enjoyed very much her experiences with the back seat monitors.
Vice Chairman Jerry Lee...
“I agree that the 5% is too high”
Director Joel Ramos...
“I personally didn't like the monitors at all. I actually found the mute button and the darn thing turned itself back on again. I tried to lower the brightness as much as I could and it wouldn't go all the way off and I ended up having to put my coat over it to dim 'cause it was so annoying. Personally, I actually look forward to talking to the cab drivers. They're wonderful people. They often have gotten extraordinary stories to tell. I will find that I learn way more about the City talking to the cab driver than I would get from a [Taxi TV] map ”
Ramos added that he knows that many business owners, including artists, are using alternatives like Square, and that it is safe and secure. He said he's offended by claims made by some that Square poses a threat to personal security.
Sonali Bose, MTA Chief Financial Officer...
“Thank you directors. I think you've given us good feedback. We're moving forward. We've already started an RFP for the credit card processing, working with the tax collector on that. So hopefully we'll come back with some good news for an optional product for the taxi drivers to use. And we hear you on the back seat monitors as well so we'll evaluate options that can enable us to mute and to make the screens less intrusive. And thirdly on electronic waybills, we'll go ahead and proceed down that road as well.”
The Nelson Nygaard report can be viewed in full HERE.
Also, a legal representative from Square disputed parts of the Nelson Nygaard report that says that some passengers may be uncomfortable using credit cards on a driver's personal smart phone, rather than cab company equipment. The legal rep said that Square is PCI compliant, and is a member of the PCI Security Standards Council.
On Item #17:
As stated before, the Board also voted 4-2 in favor of item #17, which includes expanding the Medallion Sales Pilot Program, by dropping the sellers' age requirement from 70 years old to 65.
The aye votes were – Tom Nolan, Malcolm Heinicke, Leona Bridges, and Joel Ramos. The no votes were Bruce Oka and Jerry Lee. President of the Board Ed Reiskin and Director Cheryl Brinkman were absent.
After the vote, which temporarily excludes Pre K medallion holders from selling their medallions under the pilot program, Chairman Tom Nolan said, “I think to me what is persuasive is the notion that the permanent program will be back here in a very short period of time.”
In other words, Pre K holders are only excluded from selling under the current Medallion Sales Pilot Program, which is expected to end in early 2012. Once the pilot program is over, a permanent medallion sales program is expected to begin, the details of which have not yet been fully determined.
CLICK HERE to read Ed Healy's take on Item #17 at the Phantom Cab Driver Phites Back.