Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Should Be Done About the Pilot Program?

As the Taxi Advisory Council begins to study the Pilot Program, I feel the urge to consider the above question myself: What should be done?

My immediate instinct is to say, "not very much."

First, let me recap what the plan basically does.
  • It allows drivers over 70 to sell their medallion for a fixed priced of $250,00 in order to help them retire.
  • It continues to give medallions to drivers who've put in their time on The Waiting List.
  • It also allows drivers on the list to buy medallions at the fixed price if they so choose.
  • It sets up a driver's fund for non-medallion holding drivers.
The plan, as you may recall, was a compromise between numerous people with a variety of ideas that was gradually worked out over a period of almost a year. There were reasons why the specific ideas in this plan where chosen over others.

The Fixed Price of of $250,000 accomplished four things:
  1. It gave older drivers a fairly large sum of money to help them retire
  2. It kept the price low enough so that a driver would be able to pay for a loan with the money he or she would get for leasing out the medallion to a company.
  3. It was a figure that credit unions were willing to risk loaning money on. 
  4. It limited the number of medallions that would be sold at one time so that system would not be overwhelmed.
The Fixed Price also was thought to be a way to keep skilled drivers in the taxi business.

The Waiting List was maintained because it was agreed that drivers who had already spent years waiting for a medallion had earned the right to get one without having to pay for it.

The Driver's Fund set up a fund to help non-medallion holding drivers for the first time in over 30 years.

For me, these were the three most important things and I don't think that they should be radically changed after less than six months of trial. It will probably take at least three years to go through the Waiting List and I don't think the program should be drastically changed until this is done.

However, there a few modifications that should be considered.
  • The age of he sellers can probably be lowered to 65 as more and more older drivers sell off their medallions.
  • A retirement option like the one put forth by Barry Korengold should be reconsidered.
  • Barry also had an idea for a "Driver's Investment Fund" that bears looking into.
  • The SFMTA is getting too high a percentage from the sales. The charge in most cities is around 5%
Of course there will be complications that will arise from the sale of the medallions that I haven't thought of yet and there are 15 people on the TAC that will be studying what happens. As the sales proceed and the list is cleaned up, what needs to be done in the future should become clearer.

There is one aspect of the plan, however, that I think should be changed now - the wording that establishes the Drivers Fund. The way it currently reads is:

"The SFMTA shall establish a Driver Fund. The SFMTA shall deposit all Driver Fund Transfer Fees into the Driver Fund and may, in its sole and absolute discretion, elect to deposit other monies into the Fund. Monies in the Driver Fund may be expended by the SFMTA."

There was no consensus reached during the  Town Hall Meetings as to how the money in the Driver's Fund should be used but there was no doubt as to who it should be used for. It was agreed that the fund should be used solely for the benefit of non-medallion holding drivers.

Director Hayashi has often joked about cab drivers not reading the text of the regulations she writes and I confess that I didn't read Pilot Program carefully until the other day. The specific wording of the last sentence is clearly an oversight on the part of the Director. I mean, I'm sure she wouldn't want the money in Driver Fund used for SFMTA junkets.

I think that the last sentence should read something like, "Monies in the Driver Fund should be expended solely for the benefit of non-medallion holding drivers." And it should be changed ASAP - before people forget why the fund was set up in the first place.

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