This is from yesterday's paper.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The latest round of Town Hall meeting concluded with sessions on Monday December 14 and Tuesday December 15.
Tariq Mahmood (2nd row - left), Hansu Kim (1st row - 2nd from the right) and Mike Spain (standing - center rear) all gave presentations. Mahmood and Kim gave scheduled talks while Spain delivered his lecture (for the 3rd time) under the guise of a question - or he would have if he hadn't been interrupted after ten minutes by me (smuc standing and staring at camera).
Mahmood and Kim, who are true believers in an open auction system, put aside their own ideas to back Chris Hayashi's plan in a show of unity. Spain, who also favors auctions, has also agreed to back Hayashi's idea for a fixed price sale.
Otherwise the meetings tended toward the tempestuous. Mark Gruberg of the UTW had brought along a number of drivers who had previously not attended meetings. Many of these people were openly hostile - largely on the basis of misinformation. The crowd occasionally became rowdy - forcing the unusually calm and collected Hayashi to raise her voice in order to keep the animals -er drivers - in line. In the end, she managed to sooth the fears of most of the new people.
However, a problem with semantics caused a fuss. Hayashi changed the name of her Drivers' Fund to "Industry Fun" on the advice of some clown or other. This caused both Gruberg and Ruach Graffis of the UTW to loudly declare, "There's nothing in this damn plan for us!" After the meeting Graffis stormed out threatening to put her own measure on the ballot if the non-medallion drivers didn't get their fund.
Director Hayashi was stunned by this response since she said that she intended the fund to go for the benefit of the non-medallion drivers - no matter what the fund was called.
Realizing the negative effect that the change of name had caused, she changed the fund back into a "Driver's Fund" on Tuesday and the last session went much more smoothly. Ms Hayashi gave the fund a prominent place in on outline of her plan for taxicab reform that she finally presented.
The Town Hall meetings thus came to a temporary close with the various factions of the cab industry much closer together and more unified than they had been when the meetings began.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
A few months after I started this blog, I had a talk with Deputy Director of Taxis Chris Hayashi. I asked her what she hoped to accomplish in the way of taxicab reform. She told me that she wanted to come up with a plan that would give enough to all the various interests in the cab industry that everyone would support her proposal.
"No one will get all they want," she said, "but everyone will get something."
"It'll take the wisdom of Solomon," I told her, "to pull that off." What I meant was that I didn't think she (or anyone else) could find a compromise that all the opposing groups would back.
It turns out that I didn't know the lady very well at the time. I grossly underestimated her abilities. As we head into the stretch of the Town Hall meetings, it is beginning to look like Deputy Director Hayashi might very well do exactly what she set out to do. If so, it will be a fantastic feat.
Let's take a brief look at some things that stood against a just and reasonable taxi reform compromise when the Town Hall meetings started:
- The very real possibility that Mayor Gavin Newsom would take/steal the medallions for a political sound-bite and millions of bucks.
- The very real possibility that Director Malcom Heinicke and the MTA would enforce their own agenda for a sound-bite and millions of bucks.
- The very real possibility that President David Chiu and Supervisor Chris Daly of the Board of Supervisors would undermine the process before it started in pursuit of the eternal sound-bite ... and millions of bucks.
- The very real possibility that the Town Hall meetings were "a dog and pony show" that would later be used to justify any or all of the possibilities mentioned above.
- The byzantine internal politics of the MTA that threatened to do in Director Hayashi before she had a chance to work her mojo.
And I've yet to mention the divisions within the taxi industry itself. Instead of the usual management vs labor scenario, in San Francisco you have:
- The Companies that would like to own (or at least control) all taxi medallions. Having the most money, they would like to see an open auction system.
- Pre-K medallion holders who would also like so see an open auction system. They paid for the medallions and believe they have the right to sell them for the highest possible profit.
- Post-K medallion holders who think they have the right to retire with dignity instead of being forced to drive cabs when they are 80 years old. These can be divided into:
- 1. Medallion holders who want to keep their keep their medallions and retire.
- 2. Medallion holders who would like an open auction.
- 3. Medallion holders who think a fixed price sale would be more fair.
- Drivers high on the waiting list who would like the current seniority system of giving out medallions on a first come first service basis to continue.
- Veteran drivers who never put themselves on the waiting list and think they should be given a medallion as a reward for length of service.
- Drivers lower on the waiting list who would like to see an auction but are divided on whether it should be open or fixed.
- Newer drivers not on the waiting list who would like to see an auction but are divided on whether it should be open or fixed.
- Non-medallion drivers who want Prop-K to continue and think that medallion holders should pay for everyone else's retirement and medical benefits.
Hmmm. There must be somebody I missed? Oh yes - doctors and lawyers who want to see open auctions so they can own taxis as speculative investments like they do in New York City.... and that strange guy who shows up at hearings claiming that driving a bus qualifies him to own a taxicab.
In short, Deputy Director Hayashi faced a perfect storm of conflicting desires and opposing needs.
Added to this was the infamous "cantankerous personality of cabbies" that was summed up for me by a well-known local attorney who told me that he'd started out practicing law representing the taxi business and said that it was the worst year of his working life.
"Cab drivers all think they're geniuses," he said, "they can't agree on anything."
And yet here we are - on the brink of working out a compromise solution to taxicab reform.
We owe ourselves a pat on the back for this: for not fitting the stereotype; for listening to each other; for being more intelligent, flexible and open-minded than anyone could have imagined. As the meetings have gone on, most of us have indeed worked toward a genuine consensus.
Mostly of course we owe this to Chris Hayashi - who armed with little except her extraordinary intelligence and talents, winning personality and humanitarian beliefs, and a copy of the negotiating classic Getting to Yes decided to make this happen.
Those of us who have regularly attended the Town Hall meetings can remember Ms. Hayashi threatening to bring a gun or a whip to the meetings to keep us in line - to get us talking to each other instead of fighting. Of course we thought she was joking but she made her point: either we would come up with a plan or Newsom or Heinicke would do it for us.
Not the least of her accomplishments has been her ability to convince Newsom, Heinicke and the rest of the city's mandarins to back off and let her do her job.
To their credit, they appear to have done so. Of course this could change. The best guarantee we have against it would be to finish what we've started and end up with a proposal that everyone will support.
The smartest thing that Newsom could do would be to let us come up with the plan and then take credit for it.
Tomorrow we can start looking more closely at the stew that Director Hayashi has been helping us cook up.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I first became politically involved with the UTW's Ruach Graffis during the cab driver's battle with Major Dianne Feinstein back in 1984.
Although I've disagreed more than I've agreed with her over the years (usually more about tactics than principles), I respect Rua's commitment to her ideals and her tireless devotion to improving the lot of the average driver. No one has spent more time attending the various meetings at City Hall than she has. She's spent more time there than the current mayor.
Ruach being Ruach, she has come up with unique taxi reform plan that she has put into a 14 page booklet titled Service and Fairness. Part philosophy and part history, it also contains a new and complex method of working the cab business in San Francisco that she says is modelled on the London system.
Ruach being Ruach, the plan is phantasmagorically complicated. There would be five different classes of drivers and at least twelve different conditions which would effect how cabs operate. I confess that I don't understand the plan. Ruach told me that it wasn't "brain surgery" but I know a little about the human brain and might actually do better with brain surgery. The best I can hope to do is pass on some of her thoughts:
- There would be a drivers fund created that all five classes would contribute to.
- She estimates that approximately $18,794,401 would be available for the fund after five years.
- There would be disability and retirement programs.
- Drivers would be able to pay for the right to retire by contributing to the fund.
- One class of driver would be called a "working driver" and would have a special medallion and could drive a number of different vehicles. This is supposed to be like London.
- These drivers would replace the long term leasers and, maybe even take radio calls.
- This new class of driver would work when it was busy and take off when it was slow.
- Driver earning would go up.
- Medallion holders would have more flexibility.
- Service would improve.
I don't have a clue as to how this would play out. I intend to re-read the plan in more detail: to study it and make notes etc etc. Maybe I'll have an eureka moment. But first I intend to warm up for the task by reviewing the Theory of Relativity.
Nice work Ruach. I'm in awe.
You can probably get a copy of the plan to read for yourself at: email@example.com
At first I hardly noticed Dan Hines, the manager of National Cab, at the Town Hall meetings. He hardly said anything during the discussions, preferring to spend most of his time taking notes. But, the longer the meetings went on, the more I began to appreciate him.
When Dan did speak, everything he said was carefully thought out and presented in a clear and precise manner. He gave no long, rambling proofs of his positions nor did he spout a second-rate political philosophy. He never lost his temper or put down anyone else's thinking or made a personal attack. He just stated his ideas as briefly as possible or asked questions that were direct, to the point and polite.
Compared to the out-of-control behavior of several participants, including myself, Dan's attitude and demeanor were truly refreshing.
His main ideas are:
- Taxies should be sold at a fixed price with the price being set by the ability of drivers to pay.
- That we need to develop a higher quality, professional driver.
- Having been on a list and worked for 15 years should not by itself be enough to get a medallion. The future medallion holder should have to pass a difficult test showing a thorough knowledge of the City, traffic flows and the cab business in general.
- The overall quality of all drivers should also be improved whether or not they hold medallions.
- Once medallions are sold they should belong to an individual and not the City.
This last point is important if we want to avoid having future politicians trying to steal the medallions like Newsom wanted to do last January. If we actually owned the medallions, deregulation would be about the only way left to destroy a medallion owner's livelihood.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
With Matt Gonzales (standing in front of Mike Spain) making a surprise Monday appearance as a sub for Hansu Kim, the presentation of reform plans came to a close on Wednesday December 9, 2009.
Gonzales, Spain and Giuseppe Carvelli all spoke in favor of auctioning off taxicabs - though Gonzales said that he could accept fixed price sales. Their ideas are basically similar so I'll just mention a few points. Arguments in favor of auctioning cabs claim that auctions will:
- Allow older drivers to exit the business.
- Move the List or allow for a faster turnover of medallions.
- Allow drivers to build up equity.
- Allow for the possibility of making a profit off their investment.
- Give medallion holders the freedom to sell at any time.
- Raise revenue for the city.
There were two other ideas in their presentations that I found new and interesting.
Gonzales said there was no real reason why a loan for buying a medallion had to be for 15 years. It could just as easily be for 30 years like the mortgage on a home. In that way, the new medallion holders would have more money to spend on themselves than show up in some other projections. In other words if a loan only cost them $1,000 a month, they could live much better than they could if loan costed $1,800.
Spain, saying that he'd borrowed the idea from Hansu Kim, proposed a voucher system for drivers that could be used toward the purchase of a medallion at an auction. For instance if someone had been a working driver for 20 years he or she would get a voucher for $250,000. If a medallion sold for $400,000, the person would only have to come up $150,000 of his or her own money to compete.
Driver Peter Kirby, who is on the list, had a similar idea saying that drivers should be given credit or money for the time that they had spent on the list in event of an auction.
Driver Athan Rebelos introduced a plan that would create two classes of medallions: fleet medallions that would be prohibited from picking up at SFO and would be used primary for answering radio calls; and individual medallions that would operate much like medallions do now. Both classes could or would be auctioned off under various restricted conditions. The money raised from the auctions would go for taxicab regulation and enforcement, a general city fund and a medical and disability fund for cab drivers.
A great deal of thought and work went into preparation and presentation of all the various plans. I haven't had the space or time to do them justice here. You should be able to find copies of them from the Town Hall meetings archive at:
or by contacting:
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Deputy Director of Taxis Chris Hayashi together with Sergeant Inspector Ron Reynolds of the Taxi detail and a few motorcycle cops went on a hunt for illegal limos last Saturday Night.
Altogether the operation:
- Handed out 9 misdemeanor citations.
- Five to illegal taxis.
- Four to illegal limos.
- Eight Reports were written.
- Ten taxis were contacted.
- Ten Limos were contacted.
- One of the limo drivers, who was a three time loser, also had his limousine towed.
- 76 overtime hours were billed.
Director Hayashi said that she would be able to fine all nine violators $5,000 a piece.
Because this is San Francisco, the operation had a few unusual aspects - not the least of which was Director Hayashi's multicultural fashion statement. Wearing a green serape over a trench coat, a black shirt with Chinese calligraphy written on it and old-school, black Converse tennis shoes; she didn't look like the kind of chick who'd stick a badge in a guy's face. But she sure did it when she had to.
The star of the evening however was Sergeant Reynolds. He busted an illegal stretch-limo across the street from Beach Blanket Babylon that turned out to have been hired by a group of seniors celebrating the birthday of an 80 year old woman. Not wanting to put the aging people out on the street, Hayashi and Reynolds decided to only cite the driver for a waybill violation instead of a misdemeanor. After writing the ticket, Sgt Reynolds stuck his head into the back-seat of the limo and sang "Happy Birthday" to the woman.
Director Hayashi says that from now on the police will target illegal limos and taxis every Saturday night.
Maybe she can also change the lyrics of the "Cops" theme song to: "What's Ron gonna do when he comes for you?"
Friday, December 4, 2009
This is just to point out that there are more important things than taxis in the world.
This is also a nonpartisen point of view. Obama had a difficult decision to make and it's not my intent to criticize his actions here.
Only to point out that we have to find a better way to solve our differences.
On the other hand, inequality and powerlessness are major causes of war.
So maybe how you treat cab drivers and people of that ilk ultimately does have something to do with world peace.
This dude is old but I'll bet he was protesting Vietnam in the '60s - just like me.
We've changed but the wars haven't ... unfortunately.