Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taxi Advisory Council - Two

At the Taxi Advisory Council meeting on August 30, 2010 Chris Sweis of Royal Taxi and Big Dog City was elected as the Chair and Barry Korengold of the San Francisco Cab Driver's Association as the Vice Chair.
The primary emphasis of the meeting was how to decide what to study as well as how to limit the study so that they could finish a report to the SFMTA by 12-31-2010

Studying the Pilot Plan

John Lazar of Luxor Cab pointed out that the process of selling medallions was already causing problems because the companies were being given no advance warning as to when a new medallion holder might take over a taxicab. He added that many of the buyers were choosing to run their cabs as "long term" leases instead of "gates and gas"  and this was causing regular drivers to lose their shifts.

Another potential problem could be what would happen to someone who had bought a cab under a long term leasing arrangement only to have the medallion sold out from underneath him or her.

It was agreed by the council that they should deal with the above problems in future meetings as well as the more general problems of the "long term" lease vs the "gates and gas" lease.

Athan Rebelos said that they should study what effects the Pilot Plan had on:
  1. Buyers
  2. Sellers
  3. The Riding Public
Dan Hinds thought that they should create "accountability" from future medallion holders by setting high standards for people on the list.

Jane Bolig thought that the the possibility of raising the Fixed Price might have to be explored if potential sellers held on to their medallions because they thought that the price was not high enough.

Director Chris Hayahsi said that the Pilot Plan ends when you "transition through all the buyers and sellers. Watch what happens and make recommendations."

One of Hayashi's famous visual aids (see photo) summarizes some of the things that the council will be studying.

During the public comments Mark Gruberg said that he was worried that the Driver's Fund hadn't been defined. He also said that the was offended by being left off the council. "The UTW is the oldest driver's organization," he said. "The MHA and the SFCDA both have representatives. The UTW should have one too."

MTA Board member Bruce Oka gave a short talk saying, "If the Pilot Plan fails, we're in a lot of trouble. We can't afford for that to happen ... the more input (from the Taxi Advisory Council) the better," he added, "we are listening."


For me, this was the most interesting aspect of the afternoon. After watching the last meeting, I posited the theory that TAC appeared to be controlled by an "old boys' and girls' network" of owners, stockholders and managers that outnumbered everyone else by an 8 to 7 margin.

This week my idea did not cut the mustard.

The 8 to 7 margin did hold for the election of the Chair but Chris Sweis was elected instead of one of the "old boys" like Jim Gillespie or Dan Hinds.  The real surprise, however, was that Barry Korengold was elected as Vice Chair when Athan Rebelos and Laurie Graham voted for Barry instead of Carl Macmurdo.

These people think for themselves. In fact, during the various ballots, at least five or six council members cast votes contrary to what my theory predicted. Well ... that's what trash cans are for.

Bill Mounsey said that there were a lot of talented, intelligent people on the council with contrary opinions and that, instead of belonging to one group or another, they needed to work together to evaluate the Pilot Plan and improve the industry.

Indeed, Chris Hayashi has put together a dynamic, talented and knowledgeable group of people. If they do end up working to improve the business instead of just serving themselves, no one would be happier than I.

On the Agenda

In his first real test as Chair, Chris Swies showed a little uncertainty as to how to proceed.

Athan Rebelos wanted to add the Driver's Fund to the agenda for the next meeting. Swies clearly did not want to do so. Under the rules that the council had established the week before, the TAC sets the agenda, not the Chair.  I think that Swies should have either asked Rebelos for a motion or opened the subject up for discussion. Instead he said that the Driver's Fund was something to be studied later and acted as if the matter was tabled.

However, Swies did acknowledge Barry Korengold, who also wanted to discuss the Driver's Fund, and said that they needed to determine on whom the monies in the fund were supposed to be spent. Korengold made a motion to add the matter to the agenda, it was seconded by Rebelos and the motion was overwhelming passed by the council.

TAC will also look at the new credit card plan and take on the question of whether or not a 5% charge should be passed on the drivers.


  1. Thanks for providing such a thorough overview of these meetings. I'd like to explain what exactly I hope to study about the pilot program.

    I want to know how it has effected the seller, the buyer and the color scheme economically.

    How are color schemes effected by the transfer of medallions? Is their an improvement, no change or are they destabilizing color schemes?

    The seller. Has it improved their overall financial health? Has it been a real improvement or just a perceived improvement? For example, what has the typical seller done with the money? Have they saved it? Have they invested it? Did they lose it all or have they put themselves in a precarious position? Has their financial health actually improved? Has their lifestyle and personal health improved?

    I ask the same questions about the buyer but also, are they working more or less? How about the drivers? Are the drivers of these cabs realizing any advantages? Does a sold medallion create or decrease jobs?

    Finally for the general public. Has there been any measurable or perceived difference. Does the quality of service increase? Does it decrease?

    These questions are very important to me. I also expressed concern that the SFMTA wants us to just find a way to make the Pilot Program work. As you know, I am not against transferable medallions but in my opinion, the objective of taxi regulation is not to raise money for the City or an agency, it's to insure safe, effective and consistent service for the general public.

  2. Thanks for the comments Athan,

    I would certainly agree with your last three points.

    But, as for the sellers ... I think the time frame is too short to a realistic study. It would take a couple of years to know if they have saved or wasted the money.

    I would also think that it would be important to see whether or not the list continues to move as well as how many people on the list opt to buy.

    I was very please, by the way, to see the knowledge exhibited and the high level of the questions asked by yourself and other members of the council. Good luck on coming up with some solutions for the immense problems facing this industry.