Thursday, August 19, 2010

When Will Francoise get her medallion?

Francoise Spiegleman has been driving cab in San Francisco for 19 years and has been on the Medallion Waiting List for 15 of those years. She has raised three children during this time and works six days a week to pay her bills, leaving her little time to spend with her grandchildren.

Francoise had been near the top of The List for a long time but the changeover from the Taxi Commission to the SFMTA forced her to wait for an extra year to become eligible for a medallion. The grace and good humor that she showed under the uncertainty and stress of the situation impressed everyone who met her. Director Christiane Hayashi even made Francoise something of a poster child to represent people who have a legitimate expectation of getting a medallion from the waiting list

Finally Francoise's number came up and she handed in her paperwork which included waybills proving that she had worked from between 1,497 to 2,370 during every one of the last five years. She'd also already put in 1,127 hours by June of this year. Of course this is far more than the required 800 hours. So Taxi Services inspectors then certified her qualifications.

On August 13th, Francoise showed up at the medallion hearing with her daughter and some friends, ready to celebrate. Instead she was humiliated by hearing officer Eugene Chin who asked several personal questions that were unrelated to taxi driving and then continued the hearing for up to three weeks so that he could verify the authenticity of her unsigned waybills.

People attending the hearing were shocked and amazed by the outcome. Barry Korengold described himself as  "agasp." (See his letter.) 

Francoise herself described the attitude of Mr. Chin as assuming that she was "guilty until proved innocent. She also told me yesterday that she was experiencing a great deal of emotional strain and distress.

Driver Eric Hatten, who attended the hearing, wrote me saying,

"This obsession with hand written waybills must stop. They are an imperfect document never meant to decide the fate of drivers. They were created to be a record the police department could access in case there was a crime committed involving a driver or passenger. If you nit pick every waybill, mistakes are always going to be found.  These are documents recorded by hand, often while a driver is under the stress of picking up a passenger in the middle of a busy intersection or other less than ideal situations."

I'd like to add that the requirements for filling out a waybill have changed over the years. Every new taxi administration seems to have its own rules and drivers have rarely been properly informed as how the waybills should be filled out.

I discussed the subject of how to improve the hearing process so that an injustice like this doesn't happen again with  Chris  Hayashi.

She said that, while she wasn't free to comment on any individual case, she is talking to the hearing officers about procedures such as:
  • Under what circumstances they should ask for additional information.
  • When a hearing should or should not be continued.
  • About conditional acceptance of waybills that aren't filled out perfectly.
Hayashi also thinks that the hearing officers "would be assisted by being provided with questions that would be probative of the driving experience" of the medallion applicants. She wants to put together a series of around 200 questions that hearing officers could ask "such as the addresses or intersections of common destinations or well-known routes etc. that would be indicative of a person's experience of picking up passengers on the streets of San Francisco."

She would like me to ask you all to send her a few questions along with the answers. She also would like to ask the drivers to distinguish if these are things that day drivers or night drivers are more likely to know. For instance, day drivers are more likely to know hospitals and night drivers are more likely to know bars.

Director Hayashi also pointed out that once we get electronic waybills most of the problems with the hearings will disappear.

In the meantime, Francoise waits and agonizes.


  1. Ed,

    Great work. The pen is a mighty weapon. I believe some changes will take place now. I hope there is a big showing at the up coming August 27th Medallion Hearing. Especially by those newly appointed to the Taxi Advisory Council.


  2. Ed,
    Cogent observations at the first TAC meeting the other day. My friend recently got his medallion at Chin's first hearing. Mr. Chin spent several minutes grilling my friend over his lack of notations when he picked up disabled persons. Every cabbie in the room looked confused; none had known of such a requirement. Mark Gruberg pulled his copy of regulations, I read through it, and there is NOTHING requiring cabbies to make notations when we pick up paratransit fares. The requirement is for PARATRANSIT drivers, not regular medallion cabs. I wanted to stand up and correct the ill-informed newbie, but was advised against it for the sake of my friend's application. A) It makes sense, which precludes it ever coming into existence, that those running the hearings know and understand the industry, and B) I've personally believed that until those paid from the City's budget have to account for their time, actions, and wherabouts ie police officers, it is an archaic system merely in place to use as leverage to punish and threaten cabdrivers. I had a complaint for failure to convey, supplied Yellow Cab's computer printout and my waybill to the hearing officer showing I had a dispatched call therefore a legitimate reason to pass the flag, and was exonerated...except for the admonition and offical warning that I didn't have the vehicle's license plate number on the waybill.We are treated as bugs on the windshield..