Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The MTA's Plan to Neuter Cab Drivers

Yesterday the Executive Director of Transportation Nat Ford, behind closed doors and with no public hearings, administratively castrated the taxi industry by demoting Director Christiane Hayashi and putting both her and her department under the thumb of Director Deborah Johnson.

Almost six months to the day after replacing the Taxi Commission with promises of "reform," the MTA has stripped the taxi industry of its autonomy. Six months after "a national search for a Director of Taxis & Accessible Services" turned up Ms Hayashi, they've taken away her power.

Why? We're not too sure? In fact, nothing about his stunt makes sense.

Although Ms. Johnson apparently has a strong background in "transportation," she has no known experience with taxicabs and the department she heads has little to do with transportation. Under the control of her new department, "Administration, Taxis & Accessible Services" will be:
  • Equal Opportunity Contracting
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing and Customer Service
  • Employee and Labor Relations (for MTA employees)
  • Organizational Development and Training
  • Taxis
  • Accessible Services
What for?, you ask. I'm with you, dudes. Johnson's department looks like some administrative pot luck where the MTA tosses everything that it considers unimportant and doesn't know what else to do with.

Just as nonsensical is the MTA's treatment of Christiane Hayashi. To be demoted after six months, you would think that she must have seriously screwed up. Instead she's been almost too good to believe. Among other accomplishments Hayashi has:
  • Met with everyone in the industry from lease drivers to medallion holders to leaders of driver's organization to company managers and owners to get their views.
  • Held Townhall meetings to discuss reforming and improving the business.
  • Used drivers input to re-write the taxi rules and regulations for the City - eliminating pointless, arcane and noxious provisions like one that forced medallion holders to call in every time they went on a trip; or the infamous "snitch rule" that would have taken away the medallion or A-card of any driver who did not turn in another driver for committing a "crime" (not defined).
  • Constantly been talking to drivers to learn the nuts and bolts of the business.
  • Thought up innovative ways to improve the business.
  • Tried to find a middle ground between the various industry factions.
As a result she's liked and respected by almost everyone in a business where half the people hate each other's guts.

But if you're a cab driver and you're alive you probably already know this. The question is, why do they want to cut Hayashi off at the knees?

The only reason that I can think of is that she's has done too good a job. She's making the rest of them look bad. There's nothing that makes a bureaucrat more uneasy than a person who has more passion for her work than for being promoted (see The Wire).

But that's speculation. A few things, however, are clear:
  1. By turning over control of taxicabs to a pencil pusher instead of a full time director, they're putting an end to any chance we have for fair and just reform.
  2. The MTA considers cab drivers and the taxi industry too insignificant and unimportant to deserve autonomy.
  3. The MTA intends to run the taxicab business for their own benefit, not for the City's and certainly not for ours.
The MTA plans to bury us at the bottom of their depth chart where they think we'll stay politely out of sight and out of mind.

Let's show them that they are wrong. Let's let them know what we think of their plans.

Let them know that we and the City have a right to an autonomous Taxi department. Let them know that we deserve a full-time, hands-on Director. Let them know that the Director should remain Chris Hayashi.

The Board members can be reached at:

Phone: 415.701.4505
Fax: 415.701.4502

P.S. I hear that Executive Director Nat Ford just loves to hear from cab drivers. Call and call often.


  1. Interesting post. I wonder if it is as big a change as you suggest. Ms. Hayashi remains in charge of taxis. Instead of reporting directly to Mr. Ford, she will report to Ms. Johnson. That was the original proposed pecking order. Why are we sure that the change is harmful?

  2. It's huge change Charles. Ms. Hayashi no longer has control of the money and she no longer has final say over what happens. She has to filter her ideas and plans through Johnson, who does not have a working knowledge of the business. It limits how well she can respond to the drivers and the unique situation of the business.

    Perhaps more important than Chris herself is the fact that the Taxi Industry is being relegated to position of minor importance along with a bunch of other minor things like marketing and employee relations. Taxi was a division of the MTA and now something of less importance and will most certainly be treated accordingly.

    It also has symbolic value. The timing of this can't be accidental. Tuesday, Chris is going to deliver Newsom's proposed plan and then there will be Town Hall meetings to get industry input about the plan.

    If Chris was independent she would be delivering the final plan to the MTA.

    If the reorganization goes into effect, Chris will have to go through Johnson before delivering her report. This will give Johnson a chance to take out anything the mayor doesn't like before the public has a chance to see it.

    I guess that if you think Newsom is going to profit you, the reorganization won't be harmful at all.

    But I must say that this puts you in strange intellectual company. The only other taxi person I've met who doesn't think this change is important is Michael Spain.