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.
- What does giving cab company personnel medallions without their having to drive cabs have to do with Pilot Program?
- What does it have to do with the agenda item?
- What happened to public comment?
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:
- Dispatching is easier.
- It's safer.
- It pays a lot more money.
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.
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.