Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Looking for Bands


The new Deputy Director of Taxis, Christiane Hayashi, is looking for entertainment for the upcoming holiday celebration of the taxis. Although this is the first that I've heard of it, she says that this is an annual event.

Maybe this will be the First Annual Celebration of Taxis Day. The event will take place during the first few weeks of January.

She's looking for talent of all kinds especially musicians. But any kind of entertainer is welcome. So far she has a juggler.

If she can't get anybody else, I'll be forced to sing Beseme Mucho, Old Man River and Unbreak My Heart. Please help.

You can contact Ms Hayashi at:

Christiane Hayashi

Deputy Director of Taxis

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

1 South Van Ness, San Francisco, CA 94103

(415) 701-5235

or

christiane.hayashi@s
fmta.com

Town Hall Meeting Schedule

Upcoming 2009 Dates/Topics for Town Hall Meetings

Date

Topic/Event

Material

October 5

2 to 5 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 9

1 to 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 16

1 to 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 19

9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 20

1 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 23

9 a.m. to noon

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 26

9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 29

1 to 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted

October 30

1 to 4 p.m.

Proposition K Reform

To be Posted


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nat Ford Serves a Facial

It's official. As of Monday 9/21/2009, Taxis & Accessible Services became Administration, Taxi & Accessible Services under Director Debra Johnson.

Instead of having our own division within the MTA we are now lumped into a catchall sub-division that looks like this:

  • Equal Opportunity Contracting
  • Human Resources
  • Marketing and Customer Service
  • Employee and Labor Relations (for MTA employees)
  • Organizational Development and Training
  • Taxis
  • Accessible Services
Can't you just see the logic of the grouping?


Christiane Hayashi is still Director of Taxis but she now reports to Debra Johnson as well Executive Director Nathaniel Ford.

In practical terms, this means that Ms. Hayahsi has lost some of her freedom and power and will have to clear her actions with Debra Johnson before going ahead with them. As to whether this will effect her plans to crack down on illegal taxis and limos remains to be seen.

As to how this will effect the forthcoming Town Hall Meetings is also an open question.

One thing is certain: If Director Ford choses to ignore the wishes of everyone in the Taxicab Business in going ahead with this change, it must be his way of telling us that:
  • What we want doesn't matter.
  • The Byzantine internal politics of the MTA are more important than the needs of the cab industry or the City of San Francisco.
  • We are under his thumb.
Welcome to the MTA.

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.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mayor Newsom's New Plan to Soak the Taxi Industry


Yesterday, at the SFMTA's Police and Governance Committee, Mayor Gavin Newsom unveiled his proposed plan for taxicab reform. Although the presentation was made by Taxicabs & Accessible Services Director Christiane Hayashi, the plan was a modification of one originally drawn up by MTA board member Malcolm Heinicke during the Charter Reform meetings of 2007.

The highlights (really mostly "lowlights") of the plan are:
  • The gradual destruction of the Prop K waiting list. The list would be cut off at 5 years ago, meaning that 178 people who thought they were in line for a medallion would get the shaft. Medallions would be given out as usual for the rest of the people on the list until the list was exhausted. Prop K would then be kaput.
  • Post K medallion holders would be allowed to retire with an annuity estimated at $1,500 a month.
  • Pre K medallion holders would be allowed to die peacefully.
  • The city would be cleansed of medallion holders.
  • All medallions, including those held by taxi companies, would eventually become M medallions.
  • M medallions would be leased, not sold, to cab companies.
  • The amount of money paid for the leases would be determined at periodic auctions involving only cab companies.
The main purpose of the plan is clearly to gain revenue for the City but there is no real estimate of the total amount that they expect to receive. They do expect to gain:
  • $5.5 million a year from a 50/50 split with 300 K retirees.
  • $1.73 from Pre K medallions that covert to M medallions.
But the math doesn't work - at least not for the Pre Ks - so I guess I'll do it for them. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) Ultimately, (when all medallions are M medallions) the city expects to be able to earn:
  • 1,500 medallions at $3,000 per month =
  • $4.5 million per month =
  • $54 million a year
No wonder they didn't do the math. City Controller Ben Rosenfeld estimates that the entire taxi industry currently brings in $65 million a year. The plan, in short, is insane.

The retirement option is supposed to be a sop to the medallion holders but $1,500 a month is not enough to retire on in San Francisco.

Newsom also threw a bone to the gate and gas drivers by stating that only non-medallion holders can drive M vehicles. This would indeed mean that more regular drivers would be given good shifts but the long term effect would be to take $2,000 a month away from drivers who would have become medallion holders and give the money to the City.

The plan in reality appears to be one of those Bush-type vehicles where the real intent is to destroy social value. Medallion holders would be wiped out as a class. Power and money would be taken away from both cab drivers and taxi companies and given to the MTA.

However, these figures involved appear to come from Heinicke's fervid late night fantasies.
  • Given the small amount of the annuity, medallion holders aren't likely to retire until they are ready to die.
  • Jane Bolig, Manager of Desoto Cab, said that her company couldn't afford to pay $3,000 per month and turn a profit. The companies are paying about $2,000 a month for a medallion now. Why would they bid $3,000?
  • And, with only five or so companies bidding against each other, you'd could expect them to collude and bid less.
In sum then, the plan would:
  • Destroy Prop k.
  • Liquidate medallion holders.
  • Take money away from both the companies and drivers.
  • Destroy San Francisco's pool of professional drivers by eliminating the list.
  • Ruin taxi service in the city by lowering the quality of both the drivers and the equipment.
Not surprisingly everybody in the taxi industry stood in unity against the plan including: Jim Gillespie of Yellow Cab, Barry Korengold of the SFCDA, Mark Gruberg of the UTW, Carl Macmurdo of the MHA, Charles Rathbone and Tom Stanghellini of Luxor Cab, several drivers and myself.

Lost in the hubbub was the fact that the taxi industry also spoke in unity against MTA's reorganization plan to drop taxi's from an autonomous division equal to Transit to a subdivision and demote Director Christiane Hayashi.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Speech Given to Executive SFMTA Director Nathaniel P. Ford


Director Ford,

I'd like to thank you for accomplishing something that everybody thought was impossible: you've unified the taxicab industry ... in opposition to your reorganization plan.

We oppose your plan for three reasons :

First, as voters we object to you going against the intent of Prop A by burying us on your organization chart along with things like marketing and employee relations.

We aren't your employees and taxis have little or nothing it do with marketing or the other categories on your chart.

You clearly think that taxis are a business of minor importance. You're wrong. We are the first and last people that many tourists and conventioneers see. We're an integral part of the transportation of the city and should be treated like it.

Second, you obviously think that the taxis are a simple business. After all, if "cabbies" can do it, how complicated can it be? Well ... the thuth is that the taxi business is incredibly complex - much more complex in fact than buses.

There are no fixed routes in cab driving: no scheduled pick up times. You never know when or where someone will want a cab. Everything is random. It's like one the world's most complicated dice games.

Problems like: how to get service to the neighborhoods when there are conventions downtown, how to balance the public's need for service with the cab drivers need to eat, and how to develop a consensus for reform - demand the full attention of a full time director who has the freedom and power to act with as little restraint as possible.

Nobody, no matter how intelligent or talented, could possibly make knowledgeable decisions about the taxicab business by using 1/7th of her time.

Fortunately, for the last 6 months the city has had Chris Hayashi as a full time Taxi director. And, she has been willing and able to bring all her considerable intelligence to bear on a job that is clearly her passion.

Unlike her predecessors, Ms Hayashi actually likes and respects cab drivers. She's always asking us questions and treats us fairly and justly. In return we like and respect her. As a result, she's learned more about how the taxi business works in 6 months than all the taxi commission people put together learned in the twenty-five years that I've been driving.

Her combination of intelligence, curiosity, devotion to detail and people skills is almost too good to believe. In fact, a few of us were afraid that we were going lose her as director because you'd promote her.

In a short time, Ms Hayashi is going be delivering Mayor Newsom's proposed plan for taxicab reform. I've heard that he wants the drivers to work out a "consensus" on the plan at a series of Town Hall meetings. If he is really serious about preferring a "consensus" to a series of confrontations, Chris Hayashi is the only person who has the knowledge of the business, the knowledge of the players involved, the negotiating skills and the vision to get the job done.

Take off her handcuffs. Let her do her work.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The MTA's Plan to Neuter Cab Drivers


Yesterday the MTA, 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.
  • Come up with detailed plans to do away with our illegal competition from bandit cabs and limos.
  • 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

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