Tuesday, November 16, 2010

MHA 2010 Meeting

The Medallion Holders Association held its annual meeting Monday at the Mars Bar and Cafe.

A nice buffet which included hot wings, hors d'oeuvres and delicious hamburgers seemed to be enjoyed by just about everybody. Board member Mike Spain briefly summarized his plan for peak-time medallions and President Carl Macmurdo discussed various subjects and strategies important to the members. But the highlight of the evening was an appearance by Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi.

Showing her usual charm and charisma, the director fielded questions and used them as a springboard to express her thinking on various topics. Not necessarily in order, these included:

The Fixed Price for Selling Medallions.

Hayashi said that she liked the fixed price because:
  • It's unique to San Francisco and other cities have shown an interest in it.
  • The price is low enough to be affordable for drivers. 
  • It thus allows buyers to get reasonable loan options.
She pointed that in New York, where medallions often sell for $500,000 or more, only high interest loans with balloon payments are available and that buyers rarely succeed in paying off their loans.

One medallion holder said that the $150,000 that a holder would clear by selling the medallion would not be enough to retire on.

Ms. Hayashi responded by saying that the medallion sales were never intended to be a retirement but rather a way to help people retire in conjunction with other savings.

She added that she didn't expect the Fixed Price to go over $300,000. Otherwise medallions would no longer remain affordable for working drivers.

Peak-Time Medallions

After hearing plans about peak-time medallions for as long as I've been in the cab business, it looks like an idea whose time has come.

Director Hayashi said that people in city government wanted to see it happen so it will - probably early next year.

Various plans for how this will happen are being discussed at TAC but she did say that her plan called for the peak-time medallions to be leased from the MTA.

Not, on the other hand, a popular idea among MHA members.

Watch Those Flashers

Medallion holder Norma Greer had recently written to Hayashi about being harassed by a policeman when she tried to drop in a bus stop. The cop also threatened to cite her for using her flashers illegally.

The director said that she looked up the law and there is indeed an obscure vehicle code against using the flashers for anything except emergencies.

Hayashi said that it was legal to drop in a bus stop - as long you pull "as far forward as possible." She also said that she would discuss enforcement policy with the PCOs (meter maids).

In the meantime, she added that you should fight any such tickets and report the incidents to her office. It's also helpful to get the badge number of the officer involved.

Electronic Waybills and Credit Cards

Hayashi said all taxis would probably have electronic waybills installed by the first quarter of 2011. She added that Luxor and Yellow Cab were already equipped to handle them right now.

She expressed enthusiasm for the new technology because "we'll be able to gather accurate information" about the number of rides and so forth "for the first time ever." This could prove invaluable to the Controller's office in helping to figure out how to improve taxi service.

Ms. Hayashi also said that systems for handling credit cards would be installed on the back seat of some cabs at the option of each company.  One such system, VeriFone, would:
  • Allow the customers to swipe the cards themselves.
  • Prompt the customer for a tip.
  • Automatically transfer the funds into a driver's bank account.
There would be a 5% charge to the driver but Hayashi says that studies have shown that drivers make more than the additional 5% off the tips because of the prompting.

She also said owners and medallion holders could use other systems if they wanted - citing Yellow Cab that has chosen to keep their own system - but, in such cases, it would be illegal to pass the credit card charges onto the drivers.

This naturally segued into ...

Calling 311

Director Hayashi went on to say that every cab driver in San Francisco was required to take credit cards and, if they didn't, other drivers should report the culprits on 311. She also added other crimes such as being rude to customers or reckless driving to the list of things that should be reported.

So ... next time you see a cab driver holding up a customer with a Uzi be sure to call 311.

(Okay. Okay. Off with the sarcasm.)

I did point out to Hayashi that my information was that the taxi drivers, who were turning down credit cards, mostly drove for companies that were illegally charging the drivers 10% - 12% per transaction.

Hayashi said that we should let her know which companies were doing this.

Taking her at her word - the number to call (if your company is illegally charging you for credit card transactions) is 415.701.5235

In the past, Ms. Hayashi has promised anonymity and protection to any driver who makes a complaint against a company. I've never known her to go back on her word.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Taxi Services Speeds Up the Medallion Applicant Process

Medallion applicants will no longer necessarily have to have a hearing in order to be issued a medallion. In the future the process will go like this:

1. The SFMTA will notify the applicant of the availability of a medallion.
2.  They will concurrently post the notices on the SFMTA website and several other places inviting the public to assist in its investigation of the applicant.
3.The applicant will supply proof that he or she is qualified for a medallion.
4. SFMTA investigators will review the materials and decide whether to issue or deny the application for a medallion.
5. If they decide to issue the medallion, a member of public will have 20 business days to protest the issuance and request a hearing.
6. The SFMTA must set the hearing within 60 days.
7. The burden of proof for not issuing the medallion would be on the member of the public.

If, on the other hand, the applicant is denied issuance, he or she has 20 business to request a hearing and the SFMTA must set the hearing within 60 days. The burden of proof would be on the applicant.

These procedural changes were presented by Jarvis Murray (photo, standing) at this week's TAC meeting.

The official explanation is that the change is being made because the hearings have become a bottleneck slowing down the entire process. But I suspect that the ignorance of the taxi business exhibited by many of the hearing officers (an officer at a recent hearing reputedly berated an applicant for NOT playing the airport) may also have had something to do with the decision. Hopefully, with fewer cases to be heard, only officers schooled in the cab business will be presiding from now on.

A Change in the Public Speaking Format

Also at the Taxi Advisory Council meeting, Chairperson Chris Sweis announced a change in the order in which the public will be allowed to speak on an item. Prior to Monday's meeting, the public spoke first. From the last meeting on, the order will now be:
  1. Reports on a subject will be given.
  2. The council members will discuss the subject.
  3. The public will be allowed to comment (without asking specific questions).
  4. The council members will be allowed to make motions and vote.
The change was made because many members of the public, including myself, felt that they were unable to address a subject properly unless they were given the opportunity to speak after the council members had spoken. And, indeed, I think that the public contributed much more to this weeks discussions than they had in the past.

I also think that Chris Sweis (photo) is to be commended for showing the largeness of mind to change his procedures in order to suit us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How to Improve Service? Centralized Dispatch?

Before entering this debate, I think it would be helpful to imagine an ideal business model. And, this model should be looked at strictly from the standpoint of picking up cab customers in the most efficient way possible. It should have:

1. One dispatching system. As to whether this would be one big company like Pre-K Yellow Cab or a centralized dispatch is not important. What's essential is that all the taxis in the city would be connected to it.
     A. You ask why? Primarily because it would minimize the major curse of all radio/computer dispatch players - the NO-GO. No mas customers calling 7 cab companies simultaneously.
     B. No mas 4 taxis showing up for an order while passing 3 potential calls en route.
     C. This would work for the customers as well because they wouldn't be calling for, say, a distant Yellow when there was a Luxor a block away.

2. I think the system should be computerized with a modern app like Cabulous and the cabs should all be GPS enabled.
     A. I have a vision of a computer or a dispatcher automatically assigning each order to the nearest taxi. No muss mo fuss.

3. All drivers should have to pick up whatever order they are assigned unless they have very, very good reasons.
     A. I'm not interested in the employee vs Independent Contractor debate here. This is an "Ideal" system.
     B. The drivers, for instance, could agree to pick up all dispatched orders as part of their contracts. As to whether or not this would play with the EDD is something I can't answer.
     C. In any case, certain orders would not be picked up (for one reason or another) unless such a rule was in place.

Of course the system would be overwhelmed from time to time like during conventions or rush hour Friday nights but, on the whole, I think it would give the City very good coverage with the number of taxis we have now. It might also allow a cab to do things like piggy-back pick-ups when it's the only taxi in an area like the deep Sunset. And, customers could be given a more accurate estimation of how long it would take for them to get a cab; thus easing their anxiety, hostility and their desperate desire to ride in expensive limos.

Coming Soon - Reality.