Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Application Hearing Process - A New Set of Rules?

The July 24, 2009 hearings for medallion applicants turned out to be a radical event.

In the old days (before the MTA took over), a medallion applicant merely had to stand up before the Taxi Commission and tell them that the city needed to give him or her the medallion for some reason or other. I think I told them that they needed to give one to me because, in all humility, I was the best taxi driver there was.

The new Director of Taxis and Accessible Services, Christiane Hayashi, looked at this process and decided that it was laughably "ridiculous." She thus instituted a new procedure where a hearing officer and one of her investigators would actually look at the applicant's waybills.

The unfortunate object of this new vigor was medallion applicant Leonid Slootsky who has owned a ramp medallion for the last four years. Four years ago Slootsky worked 165 shifts and three years ago he totaled over 1200 hours but, for the last few years, he apparently decided to coast and put in only a little over 800 hours per. In the old days, that might have been okay but this is now.

Slootsky's waybills were closely examined by MTA Hearing Officer Harry Epstein and Taxis and Available Services investigator Scott Leon. On Slootsky's behalf, it should be said that neither Epstein nor Leon appeared to have the foggiest notion of what it was like to actually drive a taxi. As dilligent as they were clueless, the two of them took Slootsky's waybill apart line by line.

Epstein wanted to know why Slootsky only worked two days a week and why he started every shift with a ride at Geary and Taylor. "Is there a hotel there or something?" he asked.

Both Leon and Epstein want to know why Slootsky spend an hour or two every day waiting at the airport. Noting that he stopped taking rides an hour or two before he turned in the cab, both Epstein and Leon pared down Slootsky's time to a little over 700 hours.

The befuddled Slootsky, talking through a Russian interpreter, could only say that his wife and family worked; and promise to put in more days in the future.

I had to leave to start my shift so I didn't hear the end but I think a final determination was put off until August 14th.

As I walked out, a driver who had also watched the ceremony told me,
  • "I used to tell everybody cab driving was a great job. I'm telling 'em that any more."
He had a point. According to Epstein and Leon, working is no longer enough - one has to work successfully. It isn't enough to desperately look for rides during those desperately slow recession days and nights. You have to find them.

On the other hand, both Epstein and Leon appeared to be dedicated men with inquiring, open minds. If they asked stupid questions, it was because they wanted to know how things worked. I'm sure they'll soon get up to speed and have a better sense of what it's like to drive a cab.

But the rules have changed. While it's clear that Slootsky often got his waybills stamped long after he actually quit working, such behavior would have been acceptable last year. From now on drivers will have to completely work their shifts to get their time. I don't see where that's a bad thing.

The moral of this tale is that it's a good idea to be safe. I don't have a problem because I put in at least 1,200 hours a year. I don't know if you need that many but every driver should now put in a 1,000 hours per - just to be sure.

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