File Photo by John Han.
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By Brad Newsham
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) is finalizing its dream plan to take roughly $20 million each year from San Francisco’s cab drivers to fund paychecks and full benefits for Muni drivers, parking police, and MTA management.
The public is unaware. The cab industry (no paychecks, zero benefits) is in a state of leaderless shock.
In 1978, San Francisco voters passed a law saying that taxicab permits (medallions) would go to working drivers only. Finally, cab companies had to share the industry’s profits with the workers generating those profits. Drivers loved the law – some were able to make a down payment on a house or send a kid to college.
Cab companies hated the law – during the next 30 years they tried to change it eight times, but each time the city’s voters said, “No, we like our cab drivers. We’re keeping the law.”
Then in 2007, a group of City Hall insiders and cab company officials proposed a new law placing the cab industry under MTA control – to allow the agency’s professional managers to fix several cab industry problems, they said. Don’t worry, Mayor Newsom told us (in writing), taxicab permits will still go only to working cab drivers.
At a public meeting, Newsom’s aide promised, “The cab industry will not become a cash cow.”
The law passed – barely – and immediately the real plan became clear. On the radio, Newsom said he was going to suck $100 million from the cab industry ASAP to balance the MTA budget. An MTA attorney told the cab industry: We’re going to take $20 million from you every year. Salaries and full benefits for other MTA workers, nothing for you.
Don’t like it? Sue us!
In February the MTA unveiled plans to make 500 medallions off-limits to cab drivers, available only to companies. If you’ve spent a decade or more on the waiting list, well, Tough!
Stop the MTA newsletter – Issue #1 – April 27, 2012
“So, what is being done?”
The honest answer is, “Far, far too little.”
But a few things are, in fact, happening. For the past month, United Taxicab Workers has been holding once-a-week meetings of a “Stop the MTA” committee. The largest meeting had about 20 drivers, the smallest about 12.
After much discussion, most participants agreed that our best course of action is to try to find at least one member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who is willing to introduce a ballot measure for the November 2012 election, and to then find five more Supervisors to vote for it. (To be on the ballot, a measure needs Yes votes from six Supervisors.)
Most participants also agreed that a ballot measure should be simple (it should not try to address every problem in the cab industry). Two items were deemed essential: 1) all medallions should go to cab drivers only, and 2) all money generated by the cab industry should be reinvested in the cab industry.
Cab driver and organizer Tariq Mahmoud pointed out that if all money stays in the cab industry, the biggest problem (the MTA being focus- ed only on taking our money) will be eliminated, and the other problems can then be reasonably addressed.
The deadline for ballot measures is mid-June, so we have little time to waste, much work to do, and much money to raise. Meetings with two supervisors have been held; more are scheduled. An anti-MTA petition is circulating and already has close to 500 signatures.
The Stop the MTA committee agreed that we would try to distribute a simple newsletter every Friday for at least the next several weeks. This is the first issue.
“What can I do?”
History will be made in the next few weeks. By July (November at the latest) we will know if the MTA was able to rob the cab industry to pay MTA salaries and benefits, while denying all such dignities to cab drivers.
Most of us are from immigrant families, with roots in countries where citizens are regularly abused by their governments and by the elites – and we did not expect to see this happening here in America.
Stopping the MTA is going to require a cab driver uprising. If you have any skills or passion to share, don’t hold back. Now is the time. If you belong to a particular ethnic or interest group, be a leader – or follow one. Sign the petition, get signatures from other drivers. Encourage all to contribute money when the time comes (very soon).
Speak up during public comment at MTA meetings (especially the taxi-focused MTA meeting in June) and the Taxi Advisory Council (the TAC will soon consider a ‘No confidence in the MTA’ resolution). Come to a Stop the MTA meeting. (Meeting schedule in next newsletter.)
If you know anyone on the TAC, tell them you hate the idea of paying roughly $4,000 (each cab driver, every year) for paychecks and benefits for the MTA’s “other” 5,000 workers. Tell your company managers, tell your friends. Call your supervisor, call the media.
Be creative, too. What can you come up with? (Who is the Indian man who volunteered for a hunger strike?)
Life seems to lurch from day to day, shift to shift, but special times require special actions. A few weeks or months from now we will all know whether the MTA crushed and robbed the cab industry, or whether we finally stood up and said,“Enough!”
How to Steal Millions
QUESTION: How many criminals would it take to rob, oh, let’s say $20 million from San Francisco cab drivers each year?
ANSWER: Let’s recall the year 2011, when a serial robber knocked off eight or ten San Francisco cab drivers. Before he was finally arrested, this monster flagged cabs from the Castro over to the Western Addition and then flashed a handgun. He probably averaged less than $200 per robbery (this writer has seen three guns during 27 years as a cab driver, and the average loss was below $150), but just for estimating purposes let’s assume that an average robber actually can net $200 per robbery.
To extract $20 million from San Francisco cab drivers at $200 per robbery would require 100,000 separate robberies. Per year, that comes to 274 cab robberies a day (137 every night shift, 137 every day shift). That’s a LOT of cab robberies – obviously too big a job for just one guy.
Anyone wanting to rob San Francisco drivers of $20 million per year will have to consider importing criminals (more than a few) from other towns. Advertising in Oakland might be a good idea – Oakland always seems to carry a criminal surplus. Richmond and Vallejo are also reported to have some talent, and Berkeley, too, but looking in Marin is probably a waste of time. A craigslist posting might work: Robbers needed, experience preferred but not required. Then again, recruiters may have to consider reaching out to Stockton and San Jose and even Los Angeles.
Or maybe there is a better, easier, kinder, gentler, more efficient way to rob San Francisco cab drivers of $20 million per year? A way that would require less work and fewer people? The San Fran-cisco Municipal Transportation Agency has had a team grappling with this question for three or four years, maybe longer.
The real crime would be if we rolled over and let them do it.