Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Micro History of S.F. Taxicabs with Definitions

In order to understand the issues involving the Mayor and San Francisco cab drivers, a few definitions and a little background are necessary. For starters, it's impossible to understand anything unless you know what a medallion is.

  • Medallion = a license to own and operate a taxicab. I believe (correct me if I'm wrong) that all U.S. cities have some form of medallion system. In all cities, except San Francisco (once again, correct me if you can) these medallions are for sale, usually at auctions. In New York City they cost upwards of $500,000. They are currently not for sale in San Francisco because of:
  • Proposition K = which was passed by San Francisco voters in 1978 and gave the city a unique system. The medallions are not for individual sale but are owned by the city and the rights to use them are sold to working drivers for a fee. There is a limit of one medallion holder (often called an owner) per taxi. He or she can use the medallion as long as he or she follows certain rules. When the holder retires or dies, the medallion reverts to the city and the rights to use it is sold to the the first driver on a waiting list. Over the years, the rules covering the holding of medallion have evolved. Currently: 
  1. It takes an average of fifteens years to get to the top of The List.
  2. A driver has to have worked a minimum of 800 hours per year for five of the last six years to qualify for a medallion.
  3. Medallion holders have to work a minimum of 800 hours per year to keep their medallions.
  4. If the holders cannot work because of disability or illness, the medallions are be taken away and given back to the city.
  5. The San Francisco Medallion Holders Association has filed a lawsuit against the above rule on the basis that it violates the American Disabilities Act. A verdict is pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
  6. Proposition K could not be changed except by San Francisco voters. Numerous attempts to eliminate Prop K were all overwhelmingly voted down. 
  7. Then along came:
  • Proposition A = which was passed by the voters in 2007 as a way to raise money for the reform of the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA). The money was primarily to be used for the repair, rebuilding and improvement of the bus and rail system. The measure contained a one sentence rider that put taxicabs under the control of the MTA. The Mayor took this to mean that the voters had overturned Prop K.
  • Independent Contractor = those who have signed an independent contract with companies rather than work for a salary. All the cab drivers in San Francisco are Independent Contractors. It is an accurate description of the condition of Medallion Holders. For ordinary drivers, however, the contract is pure fiction. About the only thing they are really independent of is the protection of most labor laws. Thanks to a Supreme Court reject named Robert Bork, independent contractors can't legally form a union.
  • The List = the waiting list that cab drivers sign up for the right to own a medallion. The medallions are awarded on a first come first serve basis.
  • Medallion Holders = guys who have bought the right to own and operate taxicabs. Often incorrectly called "owners."
  • Medallion Holders Association (MHA) = what it sounds like. An organization devoted to the interests of the medallion holders.
  • Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA, SFMTA) = The agency that controls San Francisco's buses, light rail, taxis and other vehicular sevices.
  • Transferability = The right to transfer or sell a cab medallion to someone else.
  • United Taxicab Workers (UTW) = what is sounds like. An organization devoted to the interests of non-owner cab drivers. It's an association, not a union.

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