Thursday, October 28, 2010

TAC Votes to End the Driving Requirement for "Key" Cab Company Personnel on the Waiting List ... Or the End of Daly/Ma?

At the 10/25/10 meeting, the Taxi Advisory Council voted 12-3 to recommend ending the driving requirement for key cab personnel on the Waiting List. From the discussion leading up to the vote, "key" here means, not only managers, but mechanics and dispatchers as well. Only driver representatives John Han, David Kahn and Bill Mounsey voted against the motion.

There is a lot to be said about this motion but first I think you need to see the agenda item under which it was voted upon.

"Medallion Sales Pilot Pilot Program: Review buyer/applicant qualification procedures for the Medallion Application Process (Discussion and Possible Action.)

A careful reading of the above naturally leads to a few questions.
  1. What does giving cab company personnel medallions without their having to drive cabs have to do with Pilot Program?
  2. What does it have to do with the agenda item?
  3. What happened to public comment?
Barry Taranto, a sometimes driver and a member of the public, started to object about the lack of connection between the motion and the agenda item only to be silenced by Yellow Cab's Jim Gillespie who said, "Barry - we don't think we need your comments."

Nor did they think they needed comments from the rest of the public. The specific subject of the motion wasn't brought up until AFTER public comment on the theoretical agenda item. So, as a member of that public, I have no choice but to make my comments now.

Arguing in favor of zapping the driving requirement for taxi company personnel were Anthon Rebelos, Jane Bolig and John Lazar. Lazar said that mechanics and dispatchers were so important to running the companies that they shouldn't be burdened with having to drive taxis. Rebelos said that managing a cab company was a very demanding job and he had trouble finding time to meet the driving requirement. Medallion holder Jane Bolig, (a little off topic but perhaps looking forward to a future motion) seconded this idea saying that she was not even paid for being the president of Desoto Cab.

I'd like to look at these "key" personnel groups one by one.


As David Kahn and Bill Mounsey pointed out, being a mechanic is its own trade and it can be a good one. If they belong to a union, mechanics have it made - retirement and all the other stuff that cab drivers, including medallion holders, don't have.

Unionized or not, why should mechanics be entitled to a medallion simply because they work for a taxi company instead of a bus company or a garage?


This is may favorite.

These are the guys who used to give me cars without brakes if I didn't tip them enough. But we all know about the corrupt practices that are "key" to their income flow so I won't go into the subject here.

Let me just say that, almost without exception, dispatchers are ex-drivers who quit driving cabs for one or all of three reasons:
  1. Dispatching is easier.
  2. It's safer.
  3. It pays a lot more money.
John Han mentioned the five or ten dollars that drivers have to tip in order to "get out" but he didn't total it up. I've heard numbers as high as $400 or $500 a shift but I suppose that's rare. Nonetheless, it's well known that dispatchers make two or three times more money than cab drivers do.

It must be a good deal. Once they start being fed those five dollar bills through the window, dispatchers almost never go back to driving taxis.

I think being dispatcher is a perfectly legitimate life choice - unless he or she wants a medallion. In which case, they can put in the time just like the rest of us.

Management Problems

I can certainly identify with the demands that meeting the driving requirement puts on people like Chris Sweis and Athan Rebelos. We all know what it's like.

Take me for instance. During the nine years leading up to the day I received my medallion, I worked two different jobs - teaching driving in addition to driving the cab - six or seven days a week. I did this because these are both low paying jobs and I needed money to take care of my loved ones.

I suppose I could have simply driven a cab six days a week like Francoise Spiegelman but, for the ten years prior to taking up teaching, I had been driving a cab over 2,000 hours per year and I began getting all sorts of repetitive stress injuries. I took up teaching because it's much less physically demanding. Of course you have to concentrate all the time when you teach or the kids might suddenly go on the freeway the wrong way or try to whip a left in front of a charging semi; so, it's not exactly relaxing.

In short, I know how tiring putting in the hours for the driving requirement can be. But managers, like other "key" personnel and unlike regular drivers, can pick and chose the shifts they want to work. They can schedule their time any way they want. And, remember, they only have to work 156 four hour shifts or 624 hours a year. That's a lot less than the time that Francoise, I and hundreds of other medallion holders put in to earn our medallions.

In addition, like all other medallion applicants, "key" personnel only have to drive four out of the five years prior to applying. They can take a year off and kick back whenever they get close.

If, as "key personnel" they can't find the time to drive, being a manager is still a very good job. Managers certainly make considerably more money than I do.  In fact, a few of them could be considered wealthy.

Unlike regular taxi drivers, they shouldn't need a medallion to help them retire.

Conflict of Interest?

Since this clearly is a foreign concept to the Taxi Advisory Council, a definition is in order. From Wikipedia:

"A conflict of interest (COI) occurs when an individual or organization is involved in multiple interests, one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation for an act in the other."

"More generally, conflicts of interest can be defined as any situation in which an individual or corporation (either private or governmental) is in a position to exploit a professional or official capacity in some way for their personal or corporate benefit."

Chris Sweis, Athan Rebelos, John Lazar, and any other members of TAC who are the list, have engaged in a conflict of interest by using their positions on the council to vote to give themselves medallions worth a minimum of $250,000, or $25,000 for life, without meeting the requirements demanded of everyone else.

The ideal of K

I voted in favor of Proposition K long before I ever drove a cab myself because it promised to reward taxi drivers for working. When I started driving myself, and realized that unions were a thing of the past, I began to understand that a medallion was the only reward that a working taxi driver would ever get from this city. As I got close to getting my medallion, I began to see how much this system contributed to public service by keeping the best and most experienced cab drivers in the business.

Of course it was never perfect. In the old days, anybody could put his or her name on the waiting list. It was common for mechanics, dispatchers, lawyers and cops to put their names on the list and then claim that they intended to drive when their numbers came up. As Hansu Kim has pointed out, this resulted in all sorts of people (including a few millionaires) getting medallions who wouldn't dirty their hands by driving a cab.

With the advent of Daly/Ma back in 2001, a concrete set up of rules was adopted to insure that medallions would only go to working taxi drivers. Once again, of course, the system wasn't perfect. People could still fake waybills - although it was much more difficult to cheat than it had been earlier. 

Now, with electronic waybills on the horizon, the ideal of "K" can finally be realized.

And, at this precise moment, TAC is trying to change the rules so that non-cab drivers can once again own medallions.

This is no small thing. It's a radical change in principle.

One no longer has to drive a taxi to get a medallion, it's enough to work for a cab company. The medallion is now to be rewarded to people the companies "like" instead of working taxi drivers. The specter of medallion holders who have never driven a cab and never will, once again becomes a possibility.

The 3,000 or so drivers who have already qualified under Daly/Ma will just have to take a step back in line to move room for taxi company personnel.


    1. Hi Ed,

      I appreciate your efforts and I agree with many points however there's a giant flaw in the argument against a driving requirement for managers. Maybe and I stress maybe, a manager has certain advantages over a shift driver but let's consider some facts. It is physically impossible for me to start my business day at 8:am if I drive all night. I can't schedule myself on day shifts because I need to manage the company. This means that if I can leave the office at 5 I can drive maybe 5 or 6 hours max. That means I get done at 12 or 1am...

      It's suggested that once you're a manager then I don't need a medallion because I have a new and better job. Well that's quite prognostic. I'm not the owner of Green Cab, I'm hired to manage the company and if for some reason I lose that job then I could very likely need that cab medallion.

      I'm not looking for sympathy but to continue this mentallity of us versus them will get us nowhere. Losing my shot at a medallion so that I can manage a cab company doesn't make any sense and furthermore, if we're going to bring new minds into business and change the operating model then people like myself need to make a living without physically destroying ourselves.

    2. I believe the MTA Board has the last say on this don't they?
      What's next just vote on giving a medallion now for whatever person they want to have a medallion?
      I know someone that got put on the list when he was about ten years and he will probably get a medallion soon without driving more than 20 shifts in life.
      This is about as crooked as the TC giving medallions to the Welches even though they never said a word in 23 years about a problem getting thier names on the medallions.

    3. The motion was by Athen Rebelo green cab and ayes are all company reps and kedallion holders/waiting lists. When the voting comes, the majority is there and I hope the recommendation was not passed by the board. Why it is so important for the mechanic/dispatcher to have a medallion? I will be so glad to work as dispatcher and I dont want medallion while I can make more than 12K per month.

    4. Hi Athan, I appreciate the difficulties of your situation and I can sympathize with your fear of losing your managerial job and being left out in the cold. I know of at least one case where this happened. A guy who once was one of the most powerful men in the business is now in his 60's and works a graveyard shift as a dispatcher. Never bothered to put his name on the list and his company went bankrupt.

      But - this isn't a "matter of us vs them." I don't object to giving limited "key personnel" exemptions to people who do have medallions. Two reasons: 1. They've paid their dues. 2. It insurances that people who know and understand the cab business are running it. Both these reasons are gone if you give out medallions to people who haven't worked for them.

      On the other hand, your situation is very rare. If the exemptions were limited to people managing cab companies, I might not object but this idea of handing medallions out to dispatchers and mechanics is way out of line - for reasons that I've already stated.

      I've heard rumors that the companies have already drawn up lists that would total around 100 exemptions. This is absurd and it's an insult to everybody who has sacrificed and paid their dues.

      I think you should go back to the drawing board on this and limit your motion ... and let somebody else make it while you sit on your hands.

      Good luck. I appreciate your thoughtful comments and your work on the council. I hope that we can figure out a way to solve your difficulties. The industry does need you and people like you.


    5. I wonder if newly minted medallion owners who purchased their medallions under the pilot program will be next to be offered an exemption to the driving requirement. They paid their dues. They are now independent business operators who have a the financial liability of ownership. Those who are given medallions without charge from the waiting list don't carry the responsibility of ownership should someone get killed in their cab. The medallion they operate legally belongs to the city. Aren't the new buyers more deserving of a break than essential personnel?

      I'll stay anonymous on this one if you don't mind. It turns out that just as in the reign of Heidi and Jordana, free speech can once again lead to the guillotine from the new boss.

    6. We voted to recommend that the SFMTA grant the same driving exemption to managers on the waiting list that is already granted to managers who own medallions. The SFMTA said at the meeting (I asked Michael during discussion) that those are very scrutinized and few. I asked Michael, "if Green Cab goes and suddenly hires 17 managers, could they all get exemptions?" As I recall Michael's reply was, "absolutely not".

    7. Hi Athan,

      I don't necessarily have an objection to managers getting the exemption but, if I understood your recommendation correctly, it included dispatchers and mechanics in the definition of "Key personnel" and I can see no reason in the world why they should be entitled to a medallion.


    8. Dear anonymous,

      Once again, I would like to point out that you can use a pseudo-name. I just want to know that I'm listening to the same person.

      As for you reason for staying anonymous ... the "new boss" is going after a person who advocated using violence against people who are handicapped.

      If you want to advocate violence, you won't be published here either.

    9. The recommendation passed was ridiculous and I should walk out of the meeting to protest. Why no public comment? I am ashame of myself to say driver rep. We do not get the chance to take other people's comments and opinions. when we use "representative" means I am representing for the people not my opinion. Everyone's opinion and eomments must be taken into consideration. Now the TAC is overrun by owners and manamgers.
      I feel sorry for the drivers who are being abused and discriminated to make a living while there will be people who are earning more are going to get the opportunity that the drivers has no excemption.

    10. HI ED,



    11. I agree 100% with Ed's statement above. For Athan to have an exemption is one thing but when someone that got their name put on the list when they were in 4th grade and is now a manager or a gas man or an accountant to get a driving exemption is one of the dirtiest things I've seen since the TC voted to give those medallions to Lazar and the Welches a few years ago.
      As A property owner I got to pay for The City Atty. to defend the TC after they opined that the transfer was illegal and the TC should not do it.

    12. Hi Ed,

      I wasn't referring at all to the 'Boycott Paratransit' bumper stickers when I made the comment about the new boss becoming a tyrant. I believe she is right in stamping that out. Although that does give me the opportunity to point out some grand hypocrisy. It is strange to me that Director Hayashi vehemently opposed Barry Korengold's motion to grant some time exemption for those on the medallion waiting list who become disabled. For someone who seems to care about the disabled, this struck as bizarre. Yet, she has no problem with mechanics who don't drive getting medallions.


    13. Re Mr. Khan's comments.
      As the owner of Metro Cab I attended every meeting of the now defunct SF Taxi Assn for about 5 years. With the exclusion of one meeting right after Set. 11, 2000 I never heard a comment about increasing the drivers income or anything else that might make life for a driver easier.
      If you think these managers give a damn about your concerns I've got bad news for you.
      Yes you should have walked out of the meeting.
      I don't know what the hell Hayashi was thinking eevn creating such a body. The opinions of the members are easy to figure out without wasting so much time sitting around a meeting.

      Richard Hybels

    14. This industry offers people very limited opportunities for advancement. A driver who is offered a management job should not have to refuse it in order to keep his or her chance to get a medallion. Why should a company need to recruit managers from outside the industry when there are plenty of good people who would welcome jobs in management?

      I hope the MTA Board accepts the TAC recommendation.

    15. Thank you for the comment Richard Hybels. I am doing the research and maths about that and I like to learn more from every one who wants things the right way. Managing a business is hard if a person wants to keep the grip and easy if they assign the right person. I managed a construction site with 1582 people which runs 24/7 when I was 23. I managed to work and study at the same time to get another diploma. Life is full of excueses. I had seen a person managing a company bigger than green cab ( about 6 cabs I think) still driving a cab. That person doesnt complain even she is already excempted, she is still driving. Why a dispatcher, mechanic, gas man or key persons cannot fulfill the requirements?