Thursday, December 23, 2010

In Defense of Chris Hayashi

Director Christiane Hayashi is currently the object of an hysterical attack by cab driver Tariq Mehmood. From the way he's bellyaching you'd think she'd either turned racing to the airport into a capital offense or taken all the medallions and gave them to Malcolm Heinicke.

Her actual crime?  Long lines to get an A-card.

Let's put this into perspective.
  • Despite their length, the lines are moving quickly.
  • People talking about 3 minute lines at City Hall in the old days are delusional. For one thing there were 3 lines (One to do the paperwork and take the picture; one in another room to pay the fee; one back in the first room to pick up the A-card.) I waited many an hour at those lines in the old, old days. It was only in the last few years that they streamlined the process and speeded things up.
  • This is the first time that the MTA has done this and it's tough to get it right the first time out.
Should Hayashi have foreseen this problem and done things differently? I suppose.

If Cliff Lee had foreseen Edgar Rentaria mashing his pitch over the left field fence he probably would have thrown it differently and the Giants might still be waiting for the ring.

The important thing is that, unlike Lee, Hayashi has been able to correct her mistake.
  • Next year the deadline will come on drivers birthdays so there shouldn't be any lines at all.
  • The deadline has already been moved back to January 31st and, starting in January, the hours to get A-cards will be expanded.
The hours will be:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday
9 am - 11:30 am and 2 pm - 4 pm

If people want to write letters to the MTA it should be to get them to release funds so Taxi Services can hire more staff.

It seems like a good time to remind everybody what Chris Hayashi has done for us. Without her:
  • There wouldn't be a Pilot Plan.
  • There wouldn't be a Driver's Fund.
  • The Waiting List would no longer exist.
  • Buyers wouldn't have the best loan terms in the nation.
  • There wouldn't be a Taxi Advisory Council.
I could go on and on. The job that the Director has done goes way above and beyond what anybody could have hoped for or imagined.

As for Mehmood's rant ... he hates Hayashi because she wisely didn't put him on the Taxi Advisory Council.

On New Year's Eve, my first toast will go to her in honor of her hard work and everything she's accomplished.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A - Card Renewal

The line was for A-card renewal extended about ten deep outside the MTA building last Wednesday when I took this photo.

The wait is part of the growing pains for Taxi Services as they bring everything relating to taxis under their wing; and is due to the fact that A-cards are only issued on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9am - 11:30 and from 2pm to 4pm.

At the last TAC meeting, Jarvis Murry of Taxi services said that Mondays would also become available for picking up the A-cards after the first of the year.

Director Christiane Hayashi, who wasn't happy with the situation either, said that Taxi Services would switch to a birthday based deadline for the A-cards next year. She also said that lines were moving quickly despite their length and that most people were being processed in an hour or less.

My own in-depth reporting on this issue found the average wait from a little less than one hour to two hours, depending upon the time of day.

The first issue of the A-cards also caused a problem with some drivers.

The cards included not only a photo but the driver's date of birth and drivers license number. One driver at the recent TAC meeting was very upset by this because he thought that it could easily lead to identity theft.

Mike Harris of Taxis Services said that the DOB has already been eliminated from the newer cards and the initial letter has been dropped from the driver's license number. He said that drivers who didn't like their cards could exchange them for the newer version.

However, it might be a good idea to wait until after January 31st.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A GPS Solution by Barry Korengold

In light of the current airport debate, I think it'd be helpful to revisit this proposal for a GPS solution that the SFCDA submitted to airport officials last May.  This will also give some insight into the ideas being considered at the time.  The "two line system" I refer to, was a proposal to have a separate "local" line and a long line. The drivers would choose which line to wait in, with 2 different curb spaces at the terminals.

I think it's time to reconsider this GPS solution.  A system such as this could have feasibly been in place by now.

Barry  Korengold

May 7, 2010

Airport Directors                                                                                                            
Landside Operations Management
San Francisco International Airport

Dear Sirs/Madam,

We’ve considered the various options proposed at the April 28th meeting, including our own proposal of a single line with a minimum $20 or $25 fare from the airport.  We’ve heard from many drivers on the subject, and although we think a $25 minimum would eliminate the angst of getting a “short” ride after waiting long periods, many drivers are afraid of losing too much business and if the minimum was lower, it wouldn’t be enough to make up for the wait.

The SFCDA’s board has concluded that some kind of “short” system is needed to make it worthwhile for cab drivers to spend the time necessary to have enough cabs available at busy times.

We feel there will be problems with a two line system. It would take up more curbspace, and tend to fall apart when it got busy, creating the need for a single line.  Many drivers who waited in the “long” line, would be forced to take local rides.  It would also be very subjective when the starters would start sending cabs from the long line to pick up from the local line.

The New York style system where the starters give the passengers tickets indicating they’re shorts, would be very cumbersome during busy times, requires lots of extra personnel and lends itself to corruption.

We spoke at length with John Wolpert, CEO of UpStart Mobile, a Best Buy spinout, and previously designed systems for IBM.  He feels GPS can be used to verify geographical “local” trips and prevent cheating of the system, but is not quite reliable enough to use for real time verification.  In other words, there are glitches and reasons the signal might be lost temporarily, but that the information could be “cached” and recovered at a later time to help keep drivers honest.

So here’s what we came up with:

Clear geographical parameters would be set for trips considered “local”.  These parameters are subject to discussion, but we suggest Cezar Chavez to the north, Mission street to the west, Daly City, South City, Skyline Blvd, San Mateo, Foster City.  These are all trips of $25 or less.

For efficiency and to avoid backups, only cabs with short or “local” rides would pass by the exit gate.  A sensor would establish what cab was at the gate, the driver would swipe their card and the system would match the driver with the vehicle.  When the driver comes back and goes through the “local” line, he/she swipes his (or her) card as they do now before entering the main lot, and there’d be a record that they went through the local line.

If a driver tried to cheat the system, nothing would happen that shift, but the GPS information would show they went further than the established boundaries or that they turned off their GPS, the computer program would automatically flag these trips and they would later be blocked from the airport for a significant period of time.

If the penalty was stiff enough, drivers wouldn’t try to beat this system.  There should be a slight buffer zone however, so that if a passenger is going just a few blocks beyond the boundaries the driver won’t get penalized.  This could be programmed so that the actual “red flag” zone was a bit beyond the established boundaries.  Egregious violators would be easy to identify and less serious breaches could be admonished on the first violation.

Wolpert feels such a system would be relatively easy and inexpensive to implement, and could reasonably be in place sometime between September and the beginning of the year.

We like this system because it preserves the safety net of the short line, and also prevents corruption on the part of drivers or starters.  It’s not a huge change in procedure, and allows for further testing of a more complete and real time GPS system.

Although problems have been identified with the current time based short system, we don’t feel it’s as bad as portrayed in the media or that there’s an urgent need to get rid of it immediately.  The SF Weekly article was a staged event, with the driver purposely driving crazy fast to make his point.  We feel most experienced cabdrivers are safe and courteous and we should stick with this system until this GPS backed system is in place.

Thank you for considering our ideas, and we urge you to go with this plan.

Barry Korengold
President, San Francisco Cab Drivers Association

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Green Christmas

I was surprised by an e-vite from manager Athan Rebellos to attend Green Cab's Christmas party at the Sierra Bowl in Daly City. I mean, the company is owned by Mark Gruberg and is a bastion of UTW drivers.

Since I've bad-mouthed the organization and its leader more than once, I wondered if they intended to throw bowling balls at me. On the other hand, no other taxi company has ever invited me to a Christmas Party - I have my medallion with Luxor and I don't even know if they have a Christmas party - so I went.

Athan told me that he'd invited me so that I'd write the event up in my blog but that I couldn't tell anybody his bowling score. It seemed like a fair exchange for free pizza and conviviality. 

Green Cab is a very interesting company and the drivers I talked with were enthusiastic about working there.

Green Cab is unique in this city for being a democracy. Athan was elected to his position as manager and has to be re-elected every year. This creates a very different atmosphere from that of most companies where the management style appears to have been copied from the Gestapo.

"I didn't know what to do when I first came over here," a medallion holder told me, "Athan was friendly and actually wanted to hear my ideas ... I could probably make more money somewhere else but it's so enjoyable working here that I'm not going to change."

The type of party itself was democratically chosen. The drivers voted on what they should do for a Xmas party and the majority wanted to go bowling.

I had a good time, enjoyed the pizza, met some very nice people and ran into other people I don't see very often. It was especially nice to talk with Rua Graffis who was a political ally and a pal back when I first started driving 27 year ago.

In keeping with my promise to Athan, I can only say that his score was less than 300 but more than 93.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Airport Commission Nixes Airport Plan

President of the San Francisco Airport Commission, Larry Mazzola, sent the Airport's plan to end shorts back to the drawing board after listening to airport and MTA spokesmen as well as seventeen members of the public.

Tyg McCoy, Deputy Airport Director, presented the plan saying that the airport had worked together with a committee of twelve people from all aspects of the taxi industry to formulate the plan which would pay cab drivers a minimum of $17 for all rides, pass $3 of the $4 airport fee back to the drivers, and eliminate shorts. He said that, although there were numerous ideas floated during the committee meetings, the "vast majority" of the drivers were behind the SFO plan.

Linda S. Crayton, Vice President of Airport Commission, asked him if he'd done a survey of the taxi drivers. He said that he hadn't but felt confident that the plan had a broad consensus in its favor.

Then, during public comment, all 17 of the  speakers trashed the plan. Medallion holder and advertising star Brad Newsham, even threatened to lead a strike against the SFO on February 5, 2010 if the plan went into effect on February 1st.

The opposition to the plan was not a case of one group organizing a protest but rather a true consensus of the real "vast majority" of the industry. Speakers against the airport's plan included: members of the United Taxicab Workers, the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association and the Medallion Holders Association as well as Marty Smith, who is a manager at Luxor Cab, and myself.

Among the reasons given for attacking the plan were:
  • It would drastically reduce driver income.
  • It would stop many drivers from working the airport.
  • It would thus hurt service to the public.
  • It would not stop cab drivers from racing.
President Mazzola, reading the writing on the wall, ended public comment after one hour and instructed McCoy (and presumably us) to come back with a plan that actually had the support of the drivers.

Even Javis Murray of the MTA, who spoke in favor of the plan, told me after the meeting that he and the MTA backed the plan primarily because it would end "time-based shorts." He added that he would back any plan that would stop dangerous driving on the part of cab drivers.

Both Barry Korengold of the SFCDA and medallion holder Murai, who were on the Airport Committee, told me that that the Airport's presentation was misleading.

It sounded, for instance, as if the plan called for a minimum of $17 plus a $3 charge back on the $4 airport fee which would equal $16 (17+3-4) to the driver.

Actually, the plan calls for the $17 figure to include the $3 charge back, meaning that the drivers would only get $13 (17-4). ($13 an hour is approximately how much is costs a cab driver to operate a taxi.)

The SFO also plans to move airport shuttles down to the same level as the cabs thus putting them in direct competition with the taxis. This wasn't mentioned during the presentation and is vehemently opposed by cab drivers.

Most of the people I talked with who attended the Airport Committee meetings felt that (with the exception of McCoy) SFO spokesman negotiated in bad faith and used the committee to create the illusion of a consensus. SFO officials pretended to listen to the drivers and then went ahead with basically the same plan that they started with in the first place.

Korengold and Murai also pointed out the Airport Committee had voted overwhelmingly to support a distance-based short system like they have in New York City - only to have the SFO shoot it down without further discussion.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Airport's Plan to Shaft Cab Drivers

The Airport Commission is going to vote tomorrow on a plan to eliminate shorts. Instead they will have a $14 minimum and allow a $3 charge back for the $4 airport fee.

Since I don't play the airport I'm going to link you with John Han's blog The San Francisco Taxi Industry Advocacy Jounal.

Personally I think the best option would be the New York plan where a starter checks with the cab to find out where the driver is going then gives a short ticket for certain areas. There would be no time limit so there be no reason to race.

If you don't like the plan, I think tomorrow is the last chance to protest.