Friday, September 18, 2009

The MTA's double Message: ?

The MTA met Tuesday, September 15, 2009. I haven't written about it until now for two reasons: I wanted to think about what the meeting meant and I wanted to see if Executive Director Nataniel Ford would change his plan to demote Taxis & Accessible Services to a subdivision.

Last things first. As of today, I don't know if the reorganization plan is going forward or not.

Taxis & Accessible Services still exists as a division on the MTA's web page but the change isn't supposed to place until Monday 9/21/09. Director Ford did not mention the subject in his report. Numerous drivers including myself spoke out against reorganization. Director Ford appeared bored and distracted during our talks. We'll have to wait and see.

Director Ford did announce the scheduling of 35 hours of Town Hall meetings during October. Echoing Director Cameron Beach, he said that the meetings would give us a chance to see if we could come up with something to "improve"or "add to" the Mayor's plan.

The director's message sounded positive - as if we were finally being given the opportunity to have a say in the future of our business. But everyone in the taxi industry had expressed hostility to this plan a week earlier. How do we add on to something we hate?

Of course the board members, serving as they do at the Mayor's pleasure, could hardly throw his ideas out the window. So it remains unclear as to how much effect our input will really have on taxi reform.

Director Malcolm Heinicke further clouded the issue with a weird speech. He started by acting magnanimous, saying that he had proven that he was flexible. He said he had listened to cab drivers and made changes in his original ideas.

This struck me as strange. I thought that the plan was supposed to be the Mayor's? But, except for a provision allowing Prop. K drivers to retire at 65, the plan does indeed look much like a plan that Director Heinicke came up with during taxi Charter Reform meetings in 2007.

Director Heinicke added substance to the idea that he was the one making the decisions by using the word "I" instead of "we" when discussing matters between the taxicab industry and the MTA board.

Instead saying "we" want to look at your proposals, Director Heinicke used the word "I." Instead of saying "we" will evaluate your ideas, Director Heinicke again used the word "I."

In short, it appeared as if Director Heinicke was telling us that he, not the MTA board, not the Mayor and certainly not us, would be the ultimate arbitrator of the shape of taxi reform.

One thing that particularly rankled me (and I think many other drivers) was a statement by Director Heinicke to the effect that we should show him our plans in a clear and presentable manner "with the points listed so I" can easily look them over. The implication being that we have been sitting on our hands for the last several months forcing the MTA to make decisions without our input.

What a ridiculous distortion of the truth!

If Director Heinicke really wants to read our ideas, he can find most of the dozen or so plans that we have submitted posted on the MTA's own website - where they've been since March 27, 2009. He can also find my Notes Toward a Compromise Plan (with points nicely numbered) along with other plans readily available at Taxi's & Accessible Services.

In fact, if the Town Hall meetings had not been interrupted in July, the taxicab industry would almost certainly have come up with a consensus plan by now - albeit one considerably different than Heinicke's.

In any case, if Director Heinicke really is the final judge of what content goes into the taxi reform plan (and the Mayor's plan is actually Heinicke's), a "consensus" between the taxi industry and the Mayor would appear to be impossible. This plan essentially calls for the destruction of the taxicab business as we know it and the transfer of the profits from the drivers and the companies to the City. People in the taxi industry are not going change their opposition to this idea.

Maybe Director Heinicke thinks he can cram his plan down our throats. Maybe Director Heinicke can. And maybe Mayor Gavin Newsom wants 7,000 cab drivers trashing him to their customers as he runs for the Democratic nomination for Governor.


  1. Just read your Sept entries. A TERRIFIC blog. Sharpest writing I've ever read about SF taxis and politics. Keep it up.

  2. Thanks for the good word. I'll try my best.