Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Town Hall Meetings: the MHA Plan

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.

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