(Note from the blog's administrator - this article has been submitted to Taxi TownSF and has been published in the interest of free speech. The following views are those of its author, and not necessarily the views of the blog's publisher.)
TWO AND A HALF YEARS AGO the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) completed a “hostile takeover” of the city’s taxicab industry. Since then, all of the industry’s many stakeholders have been urged to attend twice-monthly meetings of the Taxicab Advisory Council (TAC) -- and also many periodic town hall meetings. Altogether there have been about 100 such meetings, which are designed: to promote conversation about ways to improve the taxicab industry; to try to achieve consensus and agreement among the various parties; and to move the industry forward.
At its regular meeting on February 13, 2012, the TAC’s members completed voting on forty separate proposals and resolutions that have been generated during these two and a half years of meetings. One item stated, “All revenues generated by the taxicab industry should be reinvested in the taxicab industry.” Clear. Simple. Fair.
On this issue, the often-fragmented industry spoke as one: the vote was unanimous, 14-0, the most overwhelming vote of the entire proceeding. Every member of the Council who was present (including representatives of the three major cab companies) voted Yes. Zero people voted No. “All revenues generated by the taxicab industry should be reinvested in the taxicab industry.” Fourteen-to-zip.
Chris Hayashi, Deputy Director of MTA Taxi Services, was present at the meeting, as usual. One of Hayashi’s main responsibilities is to serve as the Council Liaison to the MTA Board of Directors. She is specifically charged with communicating to the MTA the thoughts and sentiments of the cab industry’s many stakeholders -- cab drivers, medallion holders, cab companies, dispatchers, ridership, etc.
UNDER THE INDUSTRY’S current system a working cab driver has a chance to obtain one of the city’s 1,500 taxicab medallions. From 1978 until 2010, the understanding (and in fact the clearly-stated law governing the industry) was that medallions could only be held by working cab drivers -- not companies, not investors, not dispatch systems. This law has been upheld by the voters of San Francisco nine times, and has never once been defeated at the polls. The current system has put medallions into the hands of approximately 1,000 drivers, each of whom waited approximately 10 to 20 years.
On the very day after the TAC’s 14-0 vote (this was on February 14, 2012, Valentine’s Day) Deputy Director Hayashi convened a town hall meeting at which she unveiled a proposal ignoring, dismissing, and reversing the entire Council’s unanimous vote just 24 hours earlier.
Under Hayashi’s new proposal, 500 of the city’s medallions will now be off-limits to cab drivers. Instead, the city’s largest cab companies will be allowed to lease these 500 medallions directly from the MTA for a fee of approximately $2,500 per month; the companies can then sublease to cab drivers at maximum gates. This will give the big cab companies a windfall so astonishing -- 500 medallions, one-third of the City’s fleet! -- that when company representatives first heard this proposal, they visibly appeared to be dumbfounded.
Hayashi’s proposal is clearly (and cleverly) designed to allow the MTA to extract -- every year -- a minimum of $12 million (and perhaps as much as $20 million, or even more) from the cab industry. Before the extraction, this money will first be generated directly by the City’s 5,000 working cab drivers, not one of whom receives a regular paycheck, sick pay, vacation pay, health care, retirement, or any other benefit. (Income for a San Francisco cab driver is often estimated to be between $25,000 and $50,000.)
Once extracted, these millions of dollars will go to help pay for the salaries and benefits of the MTA’s “other” 5,000 workers -- including parking control officers, office staff, MTA management (including Ms. Hayashi), and others, most notably bus drivers. Each of these “other” 5,000 MTA workers currently receives a City-guaranteed paycheck, sick pay, vacation pay, health care, retirement, and other benefits. (In 2010, starting pay for a Muni bus driver was $28/hr, plus full benefits; annual pay for Muni drivers averaged $82,000.)
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