Thursday, October 7, 2010

TAC 9-27: The Driver's Fund

As of last week, some numbers for the Driver's Fund were:
  • 13 = Total Medallions Sold at $250,000 each.
  • $162,500  (5% or $12,500 for each salex13) = Total in Driver's Fund.
  • $92,026 = Taxi Wrap Fund balance.
  • $254,526 = Taxi Wrap and Driver's Funds combined.
                                                The Taxi Wrap Fund

was a holdover from the Taxi Commission and has been administered by Taxi Services since last year. The money coming from the current taxi wraps ($141 to the MTA while $265 goes to the companies) is currently being put into the fund.

The Taxi Advisory Counsel, in an unanimous vote, decided to wrap the Taxi Wrap Fund into the Driver's Fund.

Director Chris Hayashi said that she was working to make sure that future wraps would not cover any windows in the cabs and that taxis would be clearly recognized as such by the public.

The Driver's Fund

There were an abundance of ideas about what to do with money (see top photo.)

Jane Bolig said that what was done with it would depend upon whether it was "a popcorn fund or a plasma tv fund."

Chris Hayashi did some arithmetic showing that the sales of 100 medallions under the Pilot Plan would bring in 1.25 million dollars.  If such sales continue beyond the Pilot Plan (almost a certainty), the fund would definitely grow way beyond the "popcorn" category.

There were several ideas about how to increase the money in the fund:
  1. Put the money into an interest bearing account instead of just letting it sit as it does now. Chris Hayshi said that she would look into this.
  2. Councilor William Minikel had the intriguing idea of makiing the MTA give part of its advertising revenue to the Driver's Fund since the MTA gets money from us. Quid Pro Quo. Great idea. Good luck with that Bill. 
  3. Mininkel also proposed that each driver give one dollar to the fund every shift echoing a plan laid out by Barry Korengold last year. 
Who gets the money?

Barry Korengold (photo, right) wanted a vote to insure that the monies in the fund be used for non-medallion holding drivers - as the people at the Town Hall meetings intended. He said that it shouldn't even be necessary to discuss it.

Director Chris Hayashi, on the other hand, has expressed the idea that the people at the Town Hall meetings had left it up to the Taxi Advisory Council to decide who the money was to be used for - an interesting view to me since the duties of TAC were never discussed at Town Hall meetings.

My impression agreed with Korengold's so I checked my notes and, indeed, that the monies in the Driver's Fund should be used for non-medallion holders, was a basic cornerstone of the Pilot Plan.

Chris Hayashi (photo, left) had said, "Nobody will get everything they want but everyone will get something." Her vision of fairness and justice - in a business with little of either - is what turned so many of us into her groupies.

The Driver's Fund was the "something" that 5,000 or so non-medallion holders were supposed to get. The medallion holders would be given the right to sell their medallions and the non-medallion holders would have the right to benefit from the Driver's Fund. Quid Pro Quo. That was the compromise. That was the consensus. That was the deal.

Nonetheless, Hayashi wrote it up differently than the vast majority of Town Hall participants had purposed and insisted that her Taxi Advisory Council decide for whom the money should be used.

The Vote

Despite the fact that eight of the fifteen members on TAC are taxicab company owners, managers or stockholders, I still thought that Korengold's motion would carry the day. My reasoning was:

3. Those 5,000 non-medallion holders make up about 75% of the drivers in the business. Simple logic would dictate that, if TAC is supposed to be representing the taxi industry, something should be given be given to the majority of its workers.

2. Retired medallion holder Art Lembke has often said that the reason that taxi companies can't give benefits to drivers is that the profit margins are too low. But the Driver's Fund is new money. Allowing regular drivers to keep that money would give medallion holders and company owners the chance to unleash the true generosity of spirit that Lembke claims has been held in check by the harsh realities of the taxi business.

1. Taxicab owners and medallion holders are very sensitive to the public's perception of them as greedy, grasping, self-serving, venal and corrupt sharks. Allowing non-medallion holders to keep the money in the Driver's Fund could help to change this bigoted and unjust stereotype.

After Korengold introduced the idea that the non-medallion holders should keep the fund, the ensuing discussion was initially lame, as if the councilors couldn't think of what to say. Then Luxor Cab President John Lazar (photo, in center), claiming that medallion holders could little more afford to pay for a catastrophic injury than a regular driver could said,

"Its a Driver's Fund ... yea, the medallion holders make a couple a thousand a month more ... but they don't have so much either ... they're all drivers ..."

A slight gasp of relief could be heard from around the room and one councilor after another soon gave a variation of the "we're all drivers" speech. I half expected them to break into a chorus of We Are the World.

Of course, one could have pointed out that:
  • Lazar had turned the question on its head and was using semantics and sophistry to spin his argument. 
  • Since the fund is about money and not sentimentality, the essential fact IS the $25,000 more a year that the medallion holders make, not the fact that some medallion holders also drive.
  •  The "couple of thousand" more that we medallion holders make a month could be used to purchase the accident insurance that non-medallion drivers rarely can afford.
One could have added that:
  • Being able to sell the medallion gives the medallion holder an additional $250,000 more than non-medallions drivers.
  • Giving medallion holders access to the fund would be double-dipping - in effect giving them a rebate on the 5% that they are charged for transferring their medallions.
One could have concluded that the reason the Driver's Fund was set up in the first place was to give the non-medallion holding drivers, who make half as much money as their medallion holding brothers and sisters and won't be paid $250,000 when they retire, a little pocket change.

But one wasn't allowed to point anything out. TAC president Chris Sweis (photo, left) has decreed that (unlike at SFMTA board meetings or at most public government committee meetings of any kind in San Francisco and California) the public is not allowed to speak after the councilors and before a vote, making TAC's claims to meaningful public participation and true transparency largely bogus.

Thus, did semantics and sophistry carry the day. And, thus, the public's unfortunate prejudicial, bigoted and unfair perception of taxicab owners might continue.

Only Korengold,  John Han and David Khan voted in favor of reserving the fund for non-medallion holding drivers.

In sum: A victory for TAC over the Pilot Plan. A defeat for Chris Hayashi's vision. And, a defeat for those 5,000 non-medallions holding workers who are "all drivers" too.


    1. Taxi fund for NON-medallion holders please.

    2. I'm astounded and disgusted that the "drivers" fund is not strictly for non-med. holding drivers.
      The medallion holders job is to cash his f*ucking check which usually represents more money than most drivers make in a month. Of course making threats to go to a different company if they don't get there every whim taken care of could be considered a duty I suppose.
      People on the council that were not around when the fund was created could not know that it was intended for non-med holders but how much more of a no-brainer could it be.
      Barry is right, it should not even be a matter for discussion.
      Who picked the councilors BTW?

    3. Hi Ed,

      I wish you'd post these comments.

      Five percent of that fee should go to a driver benefit program. A driver should have to be a full time driver for at least ten years to be vested. If the driver becomes a medallion holder by buying a transferable medallion they will forfeit the money they were vested in as to grow the fund only for drivers who do not have a medallion. Due to the high turnover in the taxi industry, this will result in a significant amount of money for a non- medallion holder who stays with our industry.

      Art Lembke

    4. CORRECTION: Dmitry Nazarov voted in favor or reserving the fund for non-medallion holders, not Athan Rebelos. Athan thinks that, if the fund was used for some form of insurance, medallion holders might be included but that non-medallion holders would reap most of the benefits ... or something along those lines. Carl Macmurdo says much the same.

    5. Hi Ed,
      How does having the fund cover medallion holders, a defeat for the medallion holders? Just think I'm missing something here, or did I read it wrong?