This is from yesterday's paper.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The latest round of Town Hall meeting concluded with sessions on Monday December 14 and Tuesday December 15.
Tariq Mahmood (2nd row - left), Hansu Kim (1st row - 2nd from the right) and Mike Spain (standing - center rear) all gave presentations. Mahmood and Kim gave scheduled talks while Spain delivered his lecture (for the 3rd time) under the guise of a question - or he would have if he hadn't been interrupted after ten minutes by me (smuc standing and staring at camera).
Mahmood and Kim, who are true believers in an open auction system, put aside their own ideas to back Chris Hayashi's plan in a show of unity. Spain, who also favors auctions, has also agreed to back Hayashi's idea for a fixed price sale.
Otherwise the meetings tended toward the tempestuous. Mark Gruberg of the UTW had brought along a number of drivers who had previously not attended meetings. Many of these people were openly hostile - largely on the basis of misinformation. The crowd occasionally became rowdy - forcing the unusually calm and collected Hayashi to raise her voice in order to keep the animals -er drivers - in line. In the end, she managed to sooth the fears of most of the new people.
However, a problem with semantics caused a fuss. Hayashi changed the name of her Drivers' Fund to "Industry Fun" on the advice of some clown or other. This caused both Gruberg and Ruach Graffis of the UTW to loudly declare, "There's nothing in this damn plan for us!" After the meeting Graffis stormed out threatening to put her own measure on the ballot if the non-medallion drivers didn't get their fund.
Director Hayashi was stunned by this response since she said that she intended the fund to go for the benefit of the non-medallion drivers - no matter what the fund was called.
Realizing the negative effect that the change of name had caused, she changed the fund back into a "Driver's Fund" on Tuesday and the last session went much more smoothly. Ms Hayashi gave the fund a prominent place in on outline of her plan for taxicab reform that she finally presented.
The Town Hall meetings thus came to a temporary close with the various factions of the cab industry much closer together and more unified than they had been when the meetings began.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
A few months after I started this blog, I had a talk with Deputy Director of Taxis Chris Hayashi. I asked her what she hoped to accomplish in the way of taxicab reform. She told me that she wanted to come up with a plan that would give enough to all the various interests in the cab industry that everyone would support her proposal.
"No one will get all they want," she said, "but everyone will get something."
"It'll take the wisdom of Solomon," I told her, "to pull that off." What I meant was that I didn't think she (or anyone else) could find a compromise that all the opposing groups would back.
It turns out that I didn't know the lady very well at the time. I grossly underestimated her abilities. As we head into the stretch of the Town Hall meetings, it is beginning to look like Deputy Director Hayashi might very well do exactly what she set out to do. If so, it will be a fantastic feat.
Let's take a brief look at some things that stood against a just and reasonable taxi reform compromise when the Town Hall meetings started:
- The very real possibility that Mayor Gavin Newsom would take/steal the medallions for a political sound-bite and millions of bucks.
- The very real possibility that Director Malcom Heinicke and the MTA would enforce their own agenda for a sound-bite and millions of bucks.
- The very real possibility that President David Chiu and Supervisor Chris Daly of the Board of Supervisors would undermine the process before it started in pursuit of the eternal sound-bite ... and millions of bucks.
- The very real possibility that the Town Hall meetings were "a dog and pony show" that would later be used to justify any or all of the possibilities mentioned above.
- The byzantine internal politics of the MTA that threatened to do in Director Hayashi before she had a chance to work her mojo.
And I've yet to mention the divisions within the taxi industry itself. Instead of the usual management vs labor scenario, in San Francisco you have:
- The Companies that would like to own (or at least control) all taxi medallions. Having the most money, they would like to see an open auction system.
- Pre-K medallion holders who would also like so see an open auction system. They paid for the medallions and believe they have the right to sell them for the highest possible profit.
- Post-K medallion holders who think they have the right to retire with dignity instead of being forced to drive cabs when they are 80 years old. These can be divided into:
- 1. Medallion holders who want to keep their keep their medallions and retire.
- 2. Medallion holders who would like an open auction.
- 3. Medallion holders who think a fixed price sale would be more fair.
- Drivers high on the waiting list who would like the current seniority system of giving out medallions on a first come first service basis to continue.
- Veteran drivers who never put themselves on the waiting list and think they should be given a medallion as a reward for length of service.
- Drivers lower on the waiting list who would like to see an auction but are divided on whether it should be open or fixed.
- Newer drivers not on the waiting list who would like to see an auction but are divided on whether it should be open or fixed.
- Non-medallion drivers who want Prop-K to continue and think that medallion holders should pay for everyone else's retirement and medical benefits.
Hmmm. There must be somebody I missed? Oh yes - doctors and lawyers who want to see open auctions so they can own taxis as speculative investments like they do in New York City.... and that strange guy who shows up at hearings claiming that driving a bus qualifies him to own a taxicab.
In short, Deputy Director Hayashi faced a perfect storm of conflicting desires and opposing needs.
Added to this was the infamous "cantankerous personality of cabbies" that was summed up for me by a well-known local attorney who told me that he'd started out practicing law representing the taxi business and said that it was the worst year of his working life.
"Cab drivers all think they're geniuses," he said, "they can't agree on anything."
And yet here we are - on the brink of working out a compromise solution to taxicab reform.
We owe ourselves a pat on the back for this: for not fitting the stereotype; for listening to each other; for being more intelligent, flexible and open-minded than anyone could have imagined. As the meetings have gone on, most of us have indeed worked toward a genuine consensus.
Mostly of course we owe this to Chris Hayashi - who armed with little except her extraordinary intelligence and talents, winning personality and humanitarian beliefs, and a copy of the negotiating classic Getting to Yes decided to make this happen.
Those of us who have regularly attended the Town Hall meetings can remember Ms. Hayashi threatening to bring a gun or a whip to the meetings to keep us in line - to get us talking to each other instead of fighting. Of course we thought she was joking but she made her point: either we would come up with a plan or Newsom or Heinicke would do it for us.
Not the least of her accomplishments has been her ability to convince Newsom, Heinicke and the rest of the city's mandarins to back off and let her do her job.
To their credit, they appear to have done so. Of course this could change. The best guarantee we have against it would be to finish what we've started and end up with a proposal that everyone will support.
The smartest thing that Newsom could do would be to let us come up with the plan and then take credit for it.
Tomorrow we can start looking more closely at the stew that Director Hayashi has been helping us cook up.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I first became politically involved with the UTW's Ruach Graffis during the cab driver's battle with Major Dianne Feinstein back in 1984.
Although I've disagreed more than I've agreed with her over the years (usually more about tactics than principles), I respect Rua's commitment to her ideals and her tireless devotion to improving the lot of the average driver. No one has spent more time attending the various meetings at City Hall than she has. She's spent more time there than the current mayor.
Ruach being Ruach, she has come up with unique taxi reform plan that she has put into a 14 page booklet titled Service and Fairness. Part philosophy and part history, it also contains a new and complex method of working the cab business in San Francisco that she says is modelled on the London system.
Ruach being Ruach, the plan is phantasmagorically complicated. There would be five different classes of drivers and at least twelve different conditions which would effect how cabs operate. I confess that I don't understand the plan. Ruach told me that it wasn't "brain surgery" but I know a little about the human brain and might actually do better with brain surgery. The best I can hope to do is pass on some of her thoughts:
- There would be a drivers fund created that all five classes would contribute to.
- She estimates that approximately $18,794,401 would be available for the fund after five years.
- There would be disability and retirement programs.
- Drivers would be able to pay for the right to retire by contributing to the fund.
- One class of driver would be called a "working driver" and would have a special medallion and could drive a number of different vehicles. This is supposed to be like London.
- These drivers would replace the long term leasers and, maybe even take radio calls.
- This new class of driver would work when it was busy and take off when it was slow.
- Driver earning would go up.
- Medallion holders would have more flexibility.
- Service would improve.
I don't have a clue as to how this would play out. I intend to re-read the plan in more detail: to study it and make notes etc etc. Maybe I'll have an eureka moment. But first I intend to warm up for the task by reviewing the Theory of Relativity.
Nice work Ruach. I'm in awe.
You can probably get a copy of the plan to read for yourself at: firstname.lastname@example.org
At first I hardly noticed Dan Hines, the manager of National Cab, at the Town Hall meetings. He hardly said anything during the discussions, preferring to spend most of his time taking notes. But, the longer the meetings went on, the more I began to appreciate him.
When Dan did speak, everything he said was carefully thought out and presented in a clear and precise manner. He gave no long, rambling proofs of his positions nor did he spout a second-rate political philosophy. He never lost his temper or put down anyone else's thinking or made a personal attack. He just stated his ideas as briefly as possible or asked questions that were direct, to the point and polite.
Compared to the out-of-control behavior of several participants, including myself, Dan's attitude and demeanor were truly refreshing.
His main ideas are:
- Taxies should be sold at a fixed price with the price being set by the ability of drivers to pay.
- That we need to develop a higher quality, professional driver.
- Having been on a list and worked for 15 years should not by itself be enough to get a medallion. The future medallion holder should have to pass a difficult test showing a thorough knowledge of the City, traffic flows and the cab business in general.
- The overall quality of all drivers should also be improved whether or not they hold medallions.
- Once medallions are sold they should belong to an individual and not the City.
This last point is important if we want to avoid having future politicians trying to steal the medallions like Newsom wanted to do last January. If we actually owned the medallions, deregulation would be about the only way left to destroy a medallion owner's livelihood.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
With Matt Gonzales (standing in front of Mike Spain) making a surprise Monday appearance as a sub for Hansu Kim, the presentation of reform plans came to a close on Wednesday December 9, 2009.
Gonzales, Spain and Giuseppe Carvelli all spoke in favor of auctioning off taxicabs - though Gonzales said that he could accept fixed price sales. Their ideas are basically similar so I'll just mention a few points. Arguments in favor of auctioning cabs claim that auctions will:
- Allow older drivers to exit the business.
- Move the List or allow for a faster turnover of medallions.
- Allow drivers to build up equity.
- Allow for the possibility of making a profit off their investment.
- Give medallion holders the freedom to sell at any time.
- Raise revenue for the city.
There were two other ideas in their presentations that I found new and interesting.
Gonzales said there was no real reason why a loan for buying a medallion had to be for 15 years. It could just as easily be for 30 years like the mortgage on a home. In that way, the new medallion holders would have more money to spend on themselves than show up in some other projections. In other words if a loan only cost them $1,000 a month, they could live much better than they could if loan costed $1,800.
Spain, saying that he'd borrowed the idea from Hansu Kim, proposed a voucher system for drivers that could be used toward the purchase of a medallion at an auction. For instance if someone had been a working driver for 20 years he or she would get a voucher for $250,000. If a medallion sold for $400,000, the person would only have to come up $150,000 of his or her own money to compete.
Driver Peter Kirby, who is on the list, had a similar idea saying that drivers should be given credit or money for the time that they had spent on the list in event of an auction.
Driver Athan Rebelos introduced a plan that would create two classes of medallions: fleet medallions that would be prohibited from picking up at SFO and would be used primary for answering radio calls; and individual medallions that would operate much like medallions do now. Both classes could or would be auctioned off under various restricted conditions. The money raised from the auctions would go for taxicab regulation and enforcement, a general city fund and a medical and disability fund for cab drivers.
A great deal of thought and work went into preparation and presentation of all the various plans. I haven't had the space or time to do them justice here. You should be able to find copies of them from the Town Hall meetings archive at:
or by contacting:
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Deputy Director of Taxis Chris Hayashi together with Sergeant Inspector Ron Reynolds of the Taxi detail and a few motorcycle cops went on a hunt for illegal limos last Saturday Night.
Altogether the operation:
- Handed out 9 misdemeanor citations.
- Five to illegal taxis.
- Four to illegal limos.
- Eight Reports were written.
- Ten taxis were contacted.
- Ten Limos were contacted.
- One of the limo drivers, who was a three time loser, also had his limousine towed.
- 76 overtime hours were billed.
Director Hayashi said that she would be able to fine all nine violators $5,000 a piece.
Because this is San Francisco, the operation had a few unusual aspects - not the least of which was Director Hayashi's multicultural fashion statement. Wearing a green serape over a trench coat, a black shirt with Chinese calligraphy written on it and old-school, black Converse tennis shoes; she didn't look like the kind of chick who'd stick a badge in a guy's face. But she sure did it when she had to.
The star of the evening however was Sergeant Reynolds. He busted an illegal stretch-limo across the street from Beach Blanket Babylon that turned out to have been hired by a group of seniors celebrating the birthday of an 80 year old woman. Not wanting to put the aging people out on the street, Hayashi and Reynolds decided to only cite the driver for a waybill violation instead of a misdemeanor. After writing the ticket, Sgt Reynolds stuck his head into the back-seat of the limo and sang "Happy Birthday" to the woman.
Director Hayashi says that from now on the police will target illegal limos and taxis every Saturday night.
Maybe she can also change the lyrics of the "Cops" theme song to: "What's Ron gonna do when he comes for you?"
Friday, December 4, 2009
This is just to point out that there are more important things than taxis in the world.
This is also a nonpartisen point of view. Obama had a difficult decision to make and it's not my intent to criticize his actions here.
Only to point out that we have to find a better way to solve our differences.
On the other hand, inequality and powerlessness are major causes of war.
So maybe how you treat cab drivers and people of that ilk ultimately does have something to do with world peace.
This dude is old but I'll bet he was protesting Vietnam in the '60s - just like me.
We've changed but the wars haven't ... unfortunately.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
Barry Korengold (photo) wanted so many changes in my post of his plan that I decided to turn the editorial juggling over to him.
I think the explanation of our "plan" would work better presented as a "criteria." As we don't really give any specific details, these are conditions that must be met by any plan that would get our support.
Also, it's called "Criteria for a Compromise". The word "solution" is not in the title. The SFCDA would consider a compromise if these conditions are met:
- The principles of one driver per medallion and a minimum driving requirement of 800 hours per year would be maintained.
- Most medallions would continue to be issued to those on the waiting list as they have been, with nominal processing fees.
- Only a small percentage of medallions would become transferable at a fixed price, subject to adjustments for inflation.
- Qualified drivers on The List would be offered "the right of first refusal" in the order that they're on the list.
- Low interest loans would be made available to all qualified medallion applicants. This would include loans for the down payment.
- A fixed price for a medallion would be set at a fiqure that allows a new medallion holder to increase his or her income after making payments on a loan - without having to work more than 40 hours per week.
- A percentage of any transfer fee would go to a drivers fund.
Friday, November 27, 2009
Barry Korengold of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association presented plans for both a compromise solution to taxi reform and a driver's investment fund at the November 23rd Town Hall Meeting.
Called a "Criteria for a Compromise solution," the SFCDA plan would:
The "Drivers Investment Fund" would be created for the benefit of all drivers, not just medallion holders. It would be more like a stock or a bond than a pension plan and would help drivers to invest in their futures.
The details of the plan haven't been worked out but it would work "something like this."
Called a "Criteria for a Compromise solution," the SFCDA plan would:
- Maintain the principles of one driver per medallion and a minimum driving requirement of 800 hours per year.
- Continue to issue most medallions at no cost to those on the waiting list.
- Consider transferring a small number of medallions at a fixed rate with adjustments for inflation.
- Give drivers on The List the right to purchase (or decline to purchase) the transferred medallions on a first come first serve basis.
- Provide Low interest loans for the drivers as well as help in making a down payment on the loan.
- Insure that the fixed price be calculated in such a way that a new medallion holder would be able to increase his or her monthly income after making payments on the loan without working more than 40 hours per week.
- Guarantee that a percentage of any transfer fee would go to a driver's fund.
- Medallion holders who are 65, have held an A-Card for 20 years or have completed the driving requirement for 10 years would no longer have a driving requirement. This would put them in the same situation that Pre-K medallion holders have now.
- Medallion holder could retire by paying a flat monthly fee of no more than $500 a month. Part of the fee would be contributed to a driver's fund.
The "Drivers Investment Fund" would be created for the benefit of all drivers, not just medallion holders. It would be more like a stock or a bond than a pension plan and would help drivers to invest in their futures.
The details of the plan haven't been worked out but it would work "something like this."
- Each driver would contribute $5 per shift.
- This could come from a 25 cent drop increase on the meter.
- A percentage from the transfer of medallions could also be contributed to the fund.
- Retiring medallion holders might also contribute to the fund.
- A driver could cash out only after completing 5 years of the driving requirement within a 6 year period.
- Every driver would have an account and could cash out any time after completing their requirement.
- Once cashed out, a driver couldn't cash out again for another 5 years.
- 200 Retired MH = $1.2 million per year.
- 300 Retired MH = $1.8 million per year.
- 400 Retired MH = $2.4 million per year.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Yesterday medallion holder Michael Ferguson, Pre-K medallion holder Patrick Shannon and MHA president Carl Macmurdo (picture) presented their ideas for taxi reform.
I was unable to catch Mr. Ferguson's talk but I was told by a reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous and not be quoted that this plan focused on solving the MTA's financial problems by imposing a small tax on all city businesses instead of a gargantuan $10 million tax on us.
I can only second this idea and add that I think that a 50% tax against the salaries of the MTA staff would go a long way toward helping to cover Muni driver's overtime income. In fact, it would go a long way toward eliminating the overtime as well as serving as a strong motivation to bust bloated union contracts.
Except for showing an appalling ignorance of business ethics in China, Patrick Shannon gave a stirring and interesting speech. His misinformation would have been of no importance except that he used it to draw a false analogy between China's economic miracle and the honesty of their business culture. Actually, if The Cheating of America is a best seller in China, it's probably because Chinese businesspeople think it's a how-to manual.
But I digress.
Actually Shannon presented some great ideas. He wants San Francisco to build up a world class fleet of green, energy saving taxis. He thinks that the current medallion system, especially the gate and gas system, prevents this from happening.
What he would like to see are employee owned companies (ESOPS) or real co-ops competing with each other to improve the business. He thinks that if profits are tied to performance and the wealth is spread to the drivers the service would improve and the industry would flourish.
I've always liked these kinds of ideas and I think that, if something like this was actually put into effect, it would probably work pretty much like Mr. Shannon thinks it would. There is only one problem with it - I don't think the powers that be would go for it.
Although I've had a little fun with him in my photo, Carl Macmurdo gave the most serious speech of the three. By "serious" I mean that parts of it might actually end up in Deputy Director Hayashi's presentation to the MTA board.
What Mr. Macmurdo presented was a fixed-price taxi medallion proposal. I don't have space to go into the plan in too much detail here but you can probably find it online at the MHA website http://www.medallionholders.com/. Some highlights are:
- It would allow for the sale of all current and future medallions
- It would give drivers on the waiting list right of first refusal by position.
- The fixed price would be set at $280,000.
- A down-payment assistance program would help buyers that would be funded from the money created by a transfer tax.
- The transfer tax would be 5%.
- After two years - or after 500 permits have been transfered by medallion holders to waiting list applicants - whichever occurs last, medallions will be transfered by periodic auctions.
Carl said that the specific numbers were flexible. The fixed price, for instance, might set at $200,000 instead of $280,000 and 1,000 permits might be transfered to people on the list before the auction system takes over.
Mr. Macmurdo says that, while he doesn't personally like the idea of auctions, he thinks that they are inevitable.
The mere fact that the MHA is now in favor of a fixed price system is probably more important than any specific detail. For the last five years, the semi-official position of the MHA has been one of transferability by open auction.
This move shows flexibility on the part of Carl and his organization. It shows a willingness to do one of the hardest things in the world - re-examine one's own ideas. It shows a willingness and desire to move toward the unity and consensus that is the only real hope for the Taxi industry.
Re-reading this piece, I can't but notice that a little weirdness and a tendency toward irrelevance has crept into my post. I need a vacation from all these meetings. Fortunately, mine starts tomorrow.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
At a time when almost everyone in the taxi industry is trying to work out a reasonable compromise reform plan, when even the arch-demon of open auction transferability Mike Spain is talking consensus, the UTW has chosen another route - an hysterical propaganda attack on the Town Hall process.
Almost everything in this flyer is false. Let me count the ways:
- You can't save Prop. K. It's dead. It's past. The war is over and the people in favor of preserving K (including myself) have lost.
- The Town Hall meetings are about how to create the future.
- As of yet, there is no plan to sell medallions. There is no plan of any kind. The plan hasn't been worked out yet. That's what the Town Hall meeting are for.
- However, people attending the meeting have been moving toward a consensus plan that would include:
- Maintaining the waiting list.
- Giving drivers on the list the right to choose between getting a medallion without charge as they are now or buying a medallion for a fixed price.
- A retirement plan for medallion holders.
- Building a retirement fund for all drivers - most likely from the sale of the medallions.
- The whole idea of a fixed price auction is to make the medallions AFFORDABLE for the drivers on the list.
- It is a compromise based on the idea that most drivers would not be able to compete in an open auction.
- There has been talk of a $200,000 selling price but this would be discounted 10% so that the buying price for those on the list would be $180,000. These drivers would later be able to sell their medallions for $200,000.
- One thing that proponents of the plan have insisted on is that there should be NO DOWN PAYMENT REQUIRED to purchase a medallion.
- The idea that a driver would lose a medallion for missing one or two payments is a RIDICULOUS LIE. Nobody but the mob lends money with that strict a pay-back policy.
- In fact, no financial institution has yet provided any information on loans to cab drivers. The BOGUS STATEMENTS in the flyer are strictly UTW FANTASIES.
- Deputy Director of Taxi Chris Hayashi will soon be taking bids from credit unions to find the best possible terms for loans to drivers.
- No selling price will be settled on unless a working medallion holders can afford to make the payments.
Of course the devil is in the details and what the final plan will look like will depend upon what people decide at the Town Hall meetings. And more non-medallion holders should be there. But they should coming to express their ideas and points of view, not to protest against a plan that doesn't exist.
You know, I can accept other people's points of view. Certainly the UTW's concern for the people on the waiting list is legitimate and their longing for the security of Prop K is something I can identify with.
One thing I can't abide, however, is intellectually dishonestly. There has been at least one UTW member at every Town Hall meeting that I've attended. Therefore there is no excuse for the distortions and scare tactics contained in that flyer. It's a new low point in the taxi reform debate.
But if it brings more non-medallion drivers to the Town Hall meetings, it could turn into a good thing. It could give more people a chance to find the truth about what is happening ... and add their two cents to the process.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The indefatigable Deputy Director of Taxis, Chris Hayashi, took a break from washing her car and turned up to speak at the SFCDA meeting on Wednesday.
Many of the drivers had not attended Town Hall meetings so the session was largely a matter of bringing people up to date.
A few of the non-medallion holding drivers expressed fear of retaliation from the companies if they spoke openly at public meetings. One large mouthed medallion holder claimed that the companies would be afraid to mess with a driver once he or she became publicly known. Nonetheless, many of the drivers at this meeting clearly did not want to be photographed.
Many of the drivers also did not want to see any changes in Prop. K and there was a lively debate with many points of view expressed. As of yet, the SFCDA has not come up with a working position on taxicab reform. It is still a work in progress.
Ms. Hayashi fielded comments and questions for two and a half hours. The discussion was multi-faceted and open-ended. Among other things, many drivers became convinced that they should be attending the Town Hall meetings.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Matt Gonzales and Hansu Kim of the Taxicab Coalition also spoke at the MHA meeting last Monday.
They spoke for about 45 minutes, mostly about various aspects of taxi reform. They both pointed that this wasn't a simple problem and Gonzales warned against being too eager to form a consensus - if it was to back the wrong policies. He added that it was sometimes difficult to tell what effect a proposed change like adding prime time taxis might actually have on the business. In the end, they agreed that the right kind of consensus and unity was necessary.
They favor open auctions but may be willing settle for a fixed price transferability system. This is big change in their previous position and a definite step toward the unity that they mentioned.
Kim was concerned about the MTA's wanting $10 million from us (and rightly so) but Gonzales later said that the $10 million might also open up an opportunity to change Prop K for the benefit of the medallion holders and other drivers.
It was a long talk and they covered many aspects of this plan that is too detailed to go into here. There was, however, one thing aspect of their talk that I have definite bone of contention with.
Kim appeared to say that he's in favor of maintaining The List and not maintaining The List at the same time. When I mentioned this to him the next day he said that it wasn't an either or proposition and implied that it was possible to keep The List in some situations and not in others.
Really? I think I'd need more details on that idea.
What bothered me in his speech was what I took to be a back-door attack on both the drivers on the waiting and the drivers who already had their medallions.
Hansu started out by claiming to support those on the waiting list and said that the majority of medallion holders had gotten their medallions honesty. This took about 15 seconds.
Kim then spend the next 7 or 8 minutes attacking people who he claimed had gotten their medallions illegally. He gave very little actual evidence that this was true. For instance:
- He said "We all know" drivers who have gotten their medallions dishonestly. "We all know?" Well - I don't know anybody like that or at least I don't know that I know them.
- He then brought up one example of a former deputy sheriff who used obviously phony waybills to get a medallion. As an ex-philosophy student, Mr. Kim should know that this is a major No-No. It's the logical error of generalizing from the particular. Because one person does something illegally, it does not mean that anyone else in a group did. It's also hared to find any human activity that someone hasn't cheated on.
- Hansu went on to say that before Daly/Ma "we" really had no way of knowing if people on the list were honest of not. But he would not have brought the subject up unless he wanted us to think - "not honest."
- Than Kim went way overboard and, throwing all pretenses to logic and rules of evidence aside, said that before Daly/Ma "it was possible" for a driver to pretend to work and not do so. "It was possible?" Can't you just imagine Kim as a prosecuting attorney telling a jury, "it was possible for Mr. X to murder the butler in the tea room. Therefore he's guilty."
If Hansu is really in favor of keeping the waiting list, it's hard to see why he spent so much time attacking it in this (for me) bogus manner. Intentionally or not, he often used words in an imprecise and misleading way.
For instance, Kim went on to say that he wanted to get medallion into the hands of "real working drivers" and the only way to do that of course was by holding auctions open to all "working drivers."
From the context of his talk it sounded to me as if he was implying that people on the list were not "real working drivers."
This brings up a problem that Kim didn't go into: how do you tell who "a real working driver" is? All the arguments that Hansu used against "possibly" unworthy medallion holders and "possible" cheats on The List could be doubled and tripled for drivers not on the list:
- Unless a driver is on The List, he or she doesn't have to keep records.
- Without waybills, how would you know if somebody has ever even driven a cab at all?
One reason that the waiting list was developed in the first place was precisely to be able to tell who was or was not a "real working driver" qualified to own a medallion. It was also a way to reward people for years of service and insure that experienced drivers stayed on the job.
It hasn't been a perfect solution. Nothing done by humans is. A few people have been left off this list who should be on it. A few people have gotten medallions who shouldn't have.
Hansu apparently wants to help drivers who have worked hard and didn't put their names on The List for one reason or anther to get medallions. Fine. He also wants to help younger drivers enter the business. Also fine - as long as it's not at the expense drivers who have been working and waiting for medallions for 15 years.
But I don't see how these constant attacks on medallion holders and people on the list are in any way shape or form productive or conducive to bringing unity to this business. If he does know people who cheated, he can turn them over to Chris Hayashi. She'll cleanse them for us.
Otherwise, I'm sick and tired of having to defend myself against what I might "possibly" not have done before Daly/Ma when I was working 2,400 hours year but don't have the waybills to prove it.
If Mr. Kim really wants to bring unity, he should be concentrating on how to improve The List now instead of harping about a small minority that broke the rules in the past.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The MHA held its annual meeting last night highlighted by talks by Chris Hayashi (picture), Hansu Kim and Matt Gonzales. Dan Hinds also showed up but had to leave before he was able to deliver his scheduled speech.
Deputy Director of Taxis Hayashi covered much the same ground as she has in her Town Hall meetings so I won't go into the them here. Many of the drivers had not attended the meetings so her talk turned into a catch up session for them.
Ms. Hayashi did emphasize that, despite all the rumors flying about, the Newsom/Heinicke plans to confiscate medallions are dead.
On the other hand, Hayashi said that Proposition K would have to be changed because of the lack of an exit strategy and that it was up drivers to come up with a plan that most people in the cab industry could get behind. She encouraged drivers to either make presentations at the Town Hall meetings or send their plans and comments to her.
She said that she would formulate a reform plan taken from the various driver plans and the work done at the Town Hall meetings and present it to the MTA. The MTA would hold open hearings on the plan and, if they was no massive opposition, the plan would go into effect soon afterwards.
Director Hayashi set a target date of February 1, 2010 for wrapping up the whole process.
Medallion holders talked to her on many topics after her speech. One main theme that kept cropping up was the thought (expressed passionately by many) that the MTA had no right to extort $10 million from cab drivers. Ms Hayashi as is her custom told them that she did have the legal right to do so.
One driver said that, while she might have the legal right to steal our money, she did not have the moral right - a thought seconded by this blogger.
Another theme popular with the drivers was the idea of unity. Many drivers who asked questions of (or made comments to) Ms Hayashi as well as Hansu Kim and Matt Gonzales said that San Francisco's cab drivers had to come up with a plan that drivers from all factions could all get behind - another thought seconded by this blogger.
Chris Hayashi can be reached at:
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I'm going to start talking about plans by looking at the people least likely to compromise and work toward a consensus.
Mark Gruberg (picture) of the UTW thinks that Proposition K should not be changed. All drivers should be put on The List for a medallion by seniority and, when the medallion holder can no longer drive, he or she should give up the medallion without compensation.
Instead, a retirement plan for all drivers should be funded by charging medallion holders $300 per month. A previous plan of Gruberg's called for financing medical care for cab drivers by charging medallion holders $1,000 a month. Perhaps Gurberg's greatest triumph has been a successful ADA suit which would take medallions away from people too old or sick to drive a cab. The decision is being challenged at a higher court.
There is no doubt that Mark sincerely wants to help the average driver but it has long seemed to me that he is so fixated by his animosity toward medallion holders that it's addled his judgement. Certainly, many of his ideas and actions are illogical.
- He claims that he wants to help the average driver get a medallion.
- Yet the moment they get the medallion Gruberg wants to take away 15% to 50% of their income and control almost every move they make.
- He claims to be working for the benefit of all drivers, yet he has fought tooth and nail to take any sense of security away from medallion holding drivers as they get older.
Every third or fourth Town Hall meeting, Gruberg gives a speech about how nobody is mentioning "the elephant in the room" which according to him is the "fact" that the medallion holders, who have spent 15 years working and following rules, have gotten their medallions for "free."
Mark can't see why these medallion holders should gain anything from taxi industry reform. Instead, they should be made pay for the benefits of everyone else.
The companies have far more money than the medallion holders and engage in various illegal practices, including extorting $8 million to $10 million a year in tips from the drivers Gruberg claims to represent. But he doesn't even mention the companies as a possible source of income for his schemes.
The fact that some of these companies are run by people who have inherited their medallions and/or positions doesn't faze him either. Apparently it's okay to get something for "free" as long as you don't spend 15 years working for it.
Some of Gruberg's actions would take (or already have taken) money away from the non-medallion drivers:
- In 2004 or 2005, the UTW stopped a meter increase from going through so that they could file a suit for back gates thus costing working drivers thousands of dollars.
- His latest idea is that medallion holders should drive a minimum of 1500 hours per year which would mean that there would be fewer good shifts available for regular drivers.
It would be interesting to see if Mark would back a plan that would help the average driver if it didn't somehow stick it to the medallion holders as well. Would "win-win" win with him?
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Deputy Director of Taxis, Chris Hayashi, perhaps appropriately dressed as Uma Thurmand in Kill Bill for the Halloween Town Hall Meeting, looks at the Taxi Mission Statement.
The outfit may have been inspired by Ms. Hayashi's tongue-in-cheek threat at an earlier meeting "to bring a gun" to keep the unruly, arguing cab drivers in line. The outfit and her sword seemed to do the trick last Friday.
The Mission Statement so far is the only concrete accomplishment of the thirty or so hours that the deputy director and taxi people have spent analyzing and haggling over the various plans designed to reform the cab industry.
Not that we've been twiddling our thumbs. Many plans, ideas and options have been discussed at the Town Hall meetings and the Mission Statement has given us a format to use as a basis for negotiating various points of view.
Before going into what the Mission Statement is, in light of various rumors floating around, I think it's necessary to say what the Mission Statement is not. It's not a plan. It's an approach to a plan - a listing of the problems that need to be solved and goals that need to be attained.
- There is not, for instance, a plan in effect to take medallions away from medallion holders.
- Nor is there a plan to put the medallions up for sale at an auction.
- The plan should be developed over the next few weeks.
- ENTRY - Who gets a medallion and how.
- EXIT - (Retirement for drivers and medallion holders) and/or (Sale of medallions).
- CITY REVENUE - Deputy Director Hayashi keeps insisting in the face of all moral and ethical standards that the MTA has the right to extort $10 million from the taxi industry.
- BUSINESS STABILITY - Whatever plan we come up must keep the companies flush.
- RELIABLE SERVICE - For a good price. How do we improve service in the neighborhoods.
- DRIVER QUALITY OF LIFE - How to improve the security and money for all drivers.
- REPRESENTATION - How to get the representation at city government that we are lacking now.
In other words, our only chance is to develop a unified position and stick together.
Details of the plans and the characters who hold them starting tomorrow.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
This list is the end result of 3 hours spend searching and haggling during the Town Hall Meeting on Friday, October 23, 2009.
The idea was to define what we need to solve our problems in order to come up with an agreement that everyone can embrace.
This is what we have so far.
The hard-liners are staying hard. The middle however is expanding and the edges are soft.
I don't know what that means either.
Conflicts have been reduced. I was only in three arguments on Friday - a definite improvement. But tell that to Charles Rathbone who sat 3 feet away from my gargantuan mouth.
The rest is silence.
More details on Monday after 6 more hours of settlement negotiation. We're looking desperately for that elusive "yes."
We won't take "no" for an answer.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Used to be that bureaucrats were predictably dull and boring. You could go to a meeting, take a seat and sleep behind a person with a weight challenge knowing that you wouldn't miss a thing.
Then along came Christiane Hayashi. Not satisfied with the new plan she presented on Friday, the Deputy Director came on yet another, more radical, one on Monday.
Did I say radical? In the long history of labor conflicts, there be may nothing quite like this.
What Ms Hayashi wants to do is negotiate an agreement between all the interested groups that would give something to everybody in such a way that what is taken away magically balances out. If that doesn't make any sense, it's because I don't fully understand everything that she is trying to do.
It'll take hours of discussion to begin to work this plan out. For the moment, all I can try to do is give you some highlights.
What Ms Hayashi proposes (if I understand this correctly) is a structured settlement agreement between the city and all other parties with a "recognized interest" in the taxi business to do the following things:
- Suspend the lawsuits regarding the ADA and the Gates thus feeing up money that would be spent on legal fees by the city, the MHA, the UTW and others.
- Raise $18 million for the City of San Francisco by selling 100 cabs to drivers on the list for $180,000 a piece.
- Give another 100 cabs to people on The List without charge.
- Qualified (10 years of driving + age 65) medallion holding drivers would be allowed to retire for the next three years. This retirement would be guaranteed regardless of whether the settlement continued or not.
- There would be no permit fees for anybody during the next three years.
- A driver's fund would be set up for non-medallion drivers.
- Taxi companies would be allowed to pass their credit card charges on to the drivers.
- But the drivers would pay the corporate rate of 2.5%
- In return, the Companies would reduce the Gates 5%.
- Drivers on The List would have the choice of buying a medallion or taking one for no charge.
- It was assumed that most of them near the top would take pass on the buy option.
- But, at a certain point, people down on The List would opt to buy and could thus jump the people ahead of them. It was unclear whether there would be a fee charged for this or not.
- It was also unclear as to what guarantees the drivers buying the medallions would have that they would get their money back.
Over the three year period $18 million would be dived thusly:
- $6 million would go to the MTA for no apparent reason.
- $6 million would go to the SFPD for enforcement of laws against phony taxis, illegal limos and other things.
- $6 million would go to the Taxi department to pay for staff, materials, driver training, etc etc.
The settlement would be binding as a legal contract, would last for three years and the signees would include:
- Credit unions
- Taxicab companies
- Color schemes
- Litigants in related lawsuits
- Taxi coalition
- Department of Human Resources
At the end of the three year period, the agreement could be renewed, modified or dumped.
There were a lot of questions asked and scenarios worked out. Most of the people were very interested. Some, including myself, were enthusiastic. The usual hardcore suspects, however, remained hardcore.
Mark Guberg of the UTW thought the plan too complicated and instead wanted to continue his vendetta against medallion holders by making these worthless freeloaders pay for the retirement of all drivers.
Barry Korengold of the SFCDA didn't like the idea of selling cabs for a fixed price because the buyers would lose money on the interest. He was also afraid that this would open the floodgates for future auctions which would unfair to the average driver.
Hansu Kim, who only last week was telling me that he could accept fixed price sales and wanted to maintain The List, reverted to form by singing a lengthy praise to auctions and saying that drivers not on The List should have a right to bid too.
Michael Spain claimed that everyone would think like him in 20 years so we should do the inevitable and start auctions now.
Deputy Director Hayashi said that what the final plan would consist of would be what everybody would agree to in writing.
"What if everybody won't sign the agreement?" a man asked.
"That's not an option," she told him. "We'll keep having meeting until we have an agreement."
Does she intend to take a page from Robert Kennedy Jr. and lock us all in a room until we all sign a settlement?
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Deputy Director of Taxis Chris Hayashi had an epiphany the other night which led to a change of emphasis during the October 16th Town Hall meeting. Originally she had intended to discuss two separate plans: one offering medallions holders a chance to buy a retirement and the other offering the chance sell a medallion at a fixed rate.
Ms Hayashi's revelation was that the two ideas could be combined into one. She only saw the broad strokes in her vision so the details have yet to be worked out. However, the outline goes something like this:
- Medallion holders could opt for either retirement or sale.
- The List would be maintained and drivers on it apparently would have a choice between getting the medallion by paying for it or not.
- The City would take fees of at least $10 million for brokering the deal because they are giving us public access to the streets ... or something.
- Some of these fees would go back to the taxi industry in the form of enforcement against illegal taxis and limos as well benefits for the non-medallion drivers.
I think the idea was generally greeted with enthusiasm - especially by those of us who thought that the twain could never meet between the plans; and that the people favoring one side or the other could never reach an agreement.
There was hostility loudly expressed against the high percentage of the fees (ranging from 20% to 50%) that the MTA wants to charge the taxi industry for putting Deputy Director Hayashi's plan (or any other plan) into effect, mostly by medallion holder Jim Templeton and myself. Jim argued that it was absurd for us to be contributing to the salaries of MTA personnel who make more than twice as much money as we do. I concentrated my attack on the fact that we would be hit by much higher taxes than anyone else pays.
I'm afraid that we both of got a little carried away. Jim had the good grace to apologize for his outburst but I did not. I should have. My Irish temper had the best of me. My animosity was (or should have been) directed at the idea not the person. Let me apologize now.
In any case, our complaints had no effect. Ms Hayashi told us that we should talk to an attorney. Her legal opinion is that the MTA has the right impose any fees that they wish.
She saved the best news for last. She told us that the plan that wouldn't die is finally dead.
"I tried to get one of you to say something good about the plan but couldn't," she told us.
She deflected all attempts to get details about this radical change of direction with a series of impish "yes" and "no" answers to all queries on the subject. In the shadowy Byzantine world of the MTA, the force apparently is finally with Deputy Director Hayashi.
The people in the taxi industry are apparently to be given the chance to decide their own destinies.
Let's hope the wind stays at her back.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Despite unanimous loathing from cab drivers and company managers, Mayor Gavin Newsom's plan to rip-off San Francisco's taxicab industry remained the centerpiece at the Town Hall Meeting on October 9, 2009. Deputy Director of Taxis Chris Hayashi led the discussion with the aim of "adding to or improving" the scheme.
This gave taxi industry insiders a chance to see how dysfunctional the scam (which was adapted from MTA Director Malcolm Henicke's Charter Amendment plan in 2007) really is.
Unable to "get it," at one point I asked Ms. Hayashi to draw a visual representation. Jane Bolig, the manager of Desoto Cab, quipped that it would "look like Berlin after World War II." Medallion holder Mike Spain thought that the plan was drawn up by a grad student. Certainly it appeared to be dreamed up by somebody who knew little about business and less about taxicabs.
The great physicist Richard Feyman once said that the best solution to a problem is usually the simplest. Instead Newsom/Heinicke take a complicated problem and convolute it.
The taxi system as it is now.
There are three different categories of medallions.
- There are about 300 Pre K individual medallions.
- There are 96 Pre K corporate medallions.
- There are 1,100 Post K medallions
The medallions are not for sale.
- They are given out to working drivers on a waiting list on a first come first serve basis.
- The list is currently about 3,000 drivers long.
- Holders of the medallions are required to work a minimum of 800 hours per year.
The upshot of this is that it takes a long time for drivers to gain a medallion. I've had mine for four years, for example, and it took me a dozen years to get it. While I personally don't think that this was an unreasonable amount of time to wait to own a piece of a business, there were only 1,000 people on The List when I signed up. The List is much longer now.
Heinicke's solution to this problem is to create yet another class of medallions called M medallions. These would consist of:
- All newly issued medallions.
- Pre K medallions that go back to the city as the holders die off.
- Corporate Pre K and Post K medallions that would return (through a convoluted route) to the city after all their holders passed.
- The corporate Pre K medallions would first be transfered to a living person who was a shareholder of said corporation as of July 1, 2009. Only when he or she died off would the medallion become an M.
- Post K medallions, on the other hand, who continue to be given out to people on The List but The List would be capped at around 3,000.
- Current Post K medallion holders would be allowed to retire and their medallions would become M medallions.
- The 3,000 New Post K medallion holders would not be allowed to retire thus keeping the current system with all its problems alive. As they eventually bit the dust, the New Post K medallions would become M medallions.
- In short, all the medallions would eventually become M medallions but the process would take 40 or 50 years.
The M medallions would be leased to taxi companies not to drivers. The companies would bid against each other at periodic auctions. Heinicke expects the companies to bid about $3,000 for each medallion. This would set up an interesting scenario. For 40 or 50 years there would be two types of medallions:
- M medallions for which the companies would pay $3,000 per month.
- All other medallions for which companies usually pay about $2,000 per month.
Numerous taxi company management types were at the Town Hall meeting and they generally agreed on the following:
- Taxi companies could only afford to pay $3,000 if they cut back on services like the radio and only dealt with long term leases.
- The larger companies would probably drive the smaller companies out of business by initially overbidding.
- After they'd wiped out the small fry, they'd bid whatever they liked. Jane Bolig mentioned a dollar as a possible price.
- Another possibility would be that the companies would collude to keep the bidding down. This seemed like a popular option with most managers.
In other words the Newsom/Heinicke plan doesn't even work on its own terms.
If I'm a little more acerbic than usual its because I've wasted six hours of my time taking apart two pieces of paper that should have been shredded a month ago. Everybody in this business has already told the MTA that the Heinicke plan won't work.
This is a not very ingenious ploy to separate us from our money. Under this con all the profits in the business would eventually go to the MTA. The medallion holders would be wiped out, the companies would be reduced to leasing agencies and the drivers would become a permanent underclass with no hope of ever improving their status.
I wonder when or if Newsom will realize that, in putting his trust in Heinicke, he's riding a dead horse.
Last Friday's Town Hall Meeting was attended by people who were experts on all aspects of the taxicab business. They were and are eager and ready to come up with a plan that would benefit the companies, the drivers and the public.
When is Mayor Gavin Newsom going to start listening to them?
Sunday, October 4, 2009
When Mayor Newsom discovered that he was $600 million in debt, one of the first things he DID NOT DO was tell the people of San Francisco that he was going to cut back on their bus service. Instead he came out with his plan to "improve" taxi service by taking taxis away from cab drivers, auctioning them off and keeping the money for the city.
People in San Francisco take ten times more buses than cabs. In short, the issue was and is a red herring, a pump fake, a sound bite designed to take the public's mind away the fact that they are going to be waiting longer for buses.
Mayors from Dianne Feinstein on have used taxicabs for similar ploys, but Newsom is the first mayor to claim that he could improve taxi service by attacking San Francisco's cab drivers.
His justifications rest on a series of half truths coupled with assumptions that are essentially racist. But first - the facts, just the facts.
San Francisco has a unique cab system.
- Taxi medallions are not for sale. They are leased to drivers on a first come first serve basis.
- There is a waiting list to get a medallion that is currently 3,000 applicants long.
- The wait for a medallion is about 15 years.
- The medallion goes back to the city when a medallion holder either stops driving or dies.
Half truth: Auctioning off cabs would give more taxi drivers a chance to own one.
- Fact: Almost 1,400 out of 1,500 of San Francisco's taxicab medallions are owned by individual drivers. About 1 driver in 5 owns a medallion. In other words 90% of the taxis are owned by individual drivers. This is by far the highest percentage in the country.
- Fact: In New York City by comparison, 5,525 out of 13,107 are owned by individual drivers. This works out to 42% of the medallions - less than half the percentage in San Francisco.
- Fact: Johnny Marks of www.nycabbie.com/ writes: "
Half truth: According to Mayor Newsom's man at the MTA, Director Malcom Heinicke, taxi medallions are "essentially free."
- Fact: The medallions are not dropped from the sky or won in a lottery.
- Fact: A driver puts in an average of 15 years of hard labor to get the medallion and pays about $200,000 in rental fees. Therefore, the medallion is "earned" not free.
- Fact: About 20% of the medallion holders are indeed too old to drive. This does not, however, mean that the cabs are sitting idle. Ordinary drivers work the cabs when the medallion holder doesn't. Almost every cab in the fleet is in operation 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Opinion: I don't see how somebody would have "more of a stake" by getting a cab in an auction than working 15 years to own one.
- Fact: If you own the medallion you own the medallion. It doesn't matter how you got it. The stake in the industry is the same.
There are subtexts to Newsom's arguments that basically racist. He's morphing the stereotypes formally associated with blacks. What's he's saying in other words is:
- The service is bad because the drivers are lazy.
- We're paying them too much money so they aren't working.
- If we pay them less (put them in debt to pay for the auction price) they'll work harder.
Newsom has no idea if the cab service is good or not. (The average waiting time in front of his most famous restaurant, The Balboa Cafe, is about 15 seconds.) But Newsom does know that he can always gain political points by appealing to people's prejudices and bashing "cabbies."
- The truth is that the medallion system has created a class of professional drivers. The promise of being able to own a medallion someday keeps experienced drivers in the business.
- Fact: San Francisco has the most knowledgeable cab drivers in the USA.
- Fact: Replacing San Francisco's veteran drivers with deep-pocket newbies would most certainly make the service much worse.
- At one public hearing, a woman claimed that medallion holders weren't working because they were home eating pizzas. Did she mean to say that they were home eating watermelons?
- Facts: Medallion holders average about $45,000 per year. The average salary in San Francisco is $65,000. Medallion holders get paid $2,000 a month to lease out their cabs. Studio apartments start at $1,500 per month. Most cab drivers can't afford not to work.
According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, Newsom came up with a plan when he was a city supervisor to solve the homeless problem by detoxing homeless people and having them drive taxicabs.
Newsom's callous disregard for the fate of the drivers is certainly consistent with this attitude. In his world, cab drivers are lowlifes and undesirables. They are not "one of us," not real San Franciscans. If the drivers are too old, you just take the cabs away and let them fend for themselves. If they waited 15 years and paid $200,000 in fees with the idea that they were going to own something at the end of it, that's their problem.
This is the way you treat a member of an underclass, not a fellow human being.
When these stupid, lazy cab drivers mounted a series of protests against his plan, Mayor Newsom had his man Heinicke take it off the table.
This was in March 2009. But that wasn't the end of the matter. Only the beginning.