Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Outline for Making the Pilot Plan Permanent

I'm in my old home town of St. Paul, Minnesota for the holidays. As incredible as it may seem I'm related to most of the lovely women in this photo. In other words, this genetic pool is not responsible for my face.

But, on to 

My Plan.

I think the Pilot Plan as it is benefits most of the people in the industry and should continue with the following modifications:

(Click "read me" to continue reading post.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

TAC Votes for Taxis to Have Own Division

The Taxi Advisory Council voted 11 to 1 to advise the SFMTA to return Taxi Services to a Division status within the SFMTA.

Taxi Services came into the MTA as a Division and was demoted to a subdivision by former Executive Director Nat Ford because he thought that sucking up to Gavin Newsom would help his résumé. Last I heard Ford could't find a job and opened a consulting firm, although God only knows what subject that he's qualified to consult on - certainly not taxicabs.

There is no rational reason to have the Deputy Director of Taxi Services under the control of people who don't understand the cab business - as is the situation now. The biggest problem is that everybody thinks that they understand taxis (A member of the Citizen's Advisory Council was insulted when a cab driver tried to educate him about the business, saying "I've ridden cabs for years.") and make absurd decisions based on their ignorance of this unique and complex industry.

It's untimely a matter of power and respect and, until Taxi Services does become a division, we will never have the leadership we need.

For more on the subject click here.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Two Hearings & a Meeting

On Friday December 2nd, two administrative hearings were held regarding John Nesbitt Baker (photo) of Yellow Top Cab Company in San Leandro and Salim Soltane of Day Cab fame for illegally picking up fares in San Francisco. Henry Epstein was the Hearing Officer. Michael Harris handled the prosecution for the MTA and Investigator Eric Richholt testified as the arresting officer.

An administrative hearing is much more relaxed than a civil or criminal trial. But it's actually more powerful. There appear to be no attorneys or jurys allowed for the defendants. There also is no appeal against the Hearing Officer's ruling. The British used administrative justice to control their empire for over two hundred years. The English statesman Winston Churchill reputedly wanted to have Mahatama Ghandi killed by administrative fiat. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed.

Not that there was anything nefarious going on at room 400 in City Hall.

Baker was charged with picking up a man on Ceasar Chavez street and taking him to Palo Alto for $100; Soltane with picking up investigator Charles Castillo on Polk street between Post and Sutter streets and taking him to Sutter and Gough.

(To read the rest of this article, click below.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

SFMTA Board Looks at PIMs, 5% & Electronic Waybills

Will Rodman, who conducted the study for Nelson\Nygaard, presented his finding before the SFMTA Board on Tuesday 12/6/2011.

It was a three topic study of credit card fees, backseat monitors (PIMs) and electronic waybills. 

Since you can find more information on the subject at and elsewhere, I’m simply going to hit on some of the high points of the meeting.
The basic recommendations made by the SFMTA Board were:
The SFMTA should look into ways of lowering the cost below 5%.

  •  Rodman’s research showed that the actual cost of processing may be as     low as 2.35% to 3% not including tech and customer support, installation charges and so forth.
  •  The big question mark is how much of the room between processing costs and the 5% is profit. Since the companies are claiming that they need relief from credit card charges, they should not be profiting at the drivers' expense.
  • New York City is considering lowering the charge to the drivers to 4%.
  • John Lazar of Luxor Cab is on record as saying that the cost for him to process $1,000,000 per months of credit card receipts is $40,000 which equals 4%. And, he has the most expensive Personal Information Monitors (PIMs) around.

CFO Sonali Bose said that the MTA would be running an RFP (Request for proposal) on credit card fees to see if they can be lowered.

(To read the rest of this article, click below.)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SFMTA Board Okays Sales for K Medallion Holders Over 65

I should subtitle this : "But Not For Pre-K's - Among Other Things."

Specifically the Board okayed the following legislation changing the transportation Code:

1. Creates a ramp taxi enforcement program to hold ramp taxi medallion holders responsible to
ensure all drivers of the vehicle are qualified, and to require service to at least eight wheelchair users per month, with a $150 penalty for non-compliance, and provision for 90-day suspension for repeated violations;
2. Eliminates six month notice requirement for leaving the ramp taxi program;
3. Waives application and renewal fees for two battery-switch electric vehicle permits; 
4. Creates documentation requirements for applications to transfer a color scheme permit; 
5. Eliminates mandatory December 31 permit expiration date for permits; 
6. Eliminates the financial responsibility inquiry for driver and medallion permit applicants; 
7. Eliminates jitney bus provisions left over from the Police Code; and 
8. Re-opens the opportunity to sell medallions to individuals subject to the full-time driving
requirement who attain the age of 65 or older as of December 31, 2011, or who have a disability that prevents them from fulfilling the full-time driving requirement, clarifies that a medallion purchaser may sell regardless of age or disability, and that a medallion seller can be removed from the list of qualified sellers if they decline to sell their medallion within 15 days after an offer is made.

The item that interested most people was number 8. Since the legislation only opens sales to "individuals subject to the full-time driving requirement ... or who have a disability ..." it excludes all Pre-K medallion holders. Twenty or so of the Pre-K's (along with several K's) spoke to the unfairness of the measure. My favorite was the Pre-K who concluded by saying, "Why don't they just gas us?"

Indeed, why not? The poor dude would only get $3,000 a month for the rest of the his life, a figure that would warm the hearts of most people - except, of course, those who work for the MTA.

Please excuse the levity. Watching one Pre-K after another obsess about the injustice of their fates has been one of the more amazing aspects of the entire Pilot Plan process. These guys have made between $800,000 and $1,000,000 off a $10,000 or $20,000 investment and, as near as I can tell, they haven't stopped whining about it for thirty years. 

Or, as John Milton put it in Paradise Lost,

     "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

On the other hand, there was no separation between the K's and Pre-K's in the Pilot Plan and no warning was given that something like this might happen. If there had been a warning, most of the Pre-k medallions would have already have been sold.

The legislation on this particular matter lasts only until the end of the Pilot Plan and is designed to keep medallion sales going until a final plan is adopted. Otherwise I probably would have been against the measure. 

Barry Korengold felt no such compunction and favored the legislation because he thought that it would give earned medallions to drivers on the Waiting List.

The MTA was divided on the issue and wanted to know Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi's reasoning.

(To read the rest of this article, click below.) 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TAC and Town Hall Meetings for 11-28-11 are Cancelled

From: "SFTaxi" <>
Date: November 22, 2011 1:30:54 PM PST
Cc: "Hayashi, Christiane" <>
Subject: TAC 11-28 meeting Canceled

The Taxi Advisory Council meeting for 11-28-11 has been canceled.  There will not be enough members attending to have a quorum.

The next TAC meeting will be December 12, 2011.
Thank you
Taxi Services
          The Town Hall Meeting from 6 pm to 8 pm on Monday 11-28-11 is also canceled.

          Happy Holiday.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 2011 Town Hall Meetings

A new series of Town Hall Meetings began on Monday, November 14th to discuss, "Consideration of Proposals for the Future of Taxicab Sales."

I couldn't come on Monday but caught the end of the afternoon session on Tuesday, November 15th and stayed for the evening (see schedule below).

In attendance were Naim Malik, Tone Lee, Mark Gruberg, Christopher Fulkerson, MTA Investigator Mike Harris,  Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi and myself. Richie Weiner and Jim Gillespie from Yellow Cab management attended in the afternoon and Barry Korengold came by at night, followed much later by Tariq Mehmood.

Forgetting that he was talking to cab drivers and not trying to snow City Supervisors or the general public, Richie Weiner tried to convince everyone that drivers would make more money if more cabs were put on the street. However, most of the conversations generally followed the outline on Hayashi's whiteboard.

Despite the small turnout almost all the usual points of view were put forth on the question of sales:

  • Taxis should continue to be sold as in the Pilot Plan.
  • The age for selling should stay at 70.
  • The selling age should be lowered to 65.
  • All Taxis should be sold.
  • No taxis should be sold.

Most people thought that the seniority should continue for the waiting list and purchasing medallions but Tone Lee thought that a few medallions should be handled though a lottery.  There was also talk about combining the A-Card list with the Waiting list in some way. Ending the Waiting List was also mentioned.

There was debate as to whether or not medallion holding drivers should continue to have a driving requirement or be able to retire and continue to hold the medallions at ages 65 or 70.

The idea behind purchasing transfer rights is to give medallion holders of selling age a chance to continue working their medallion after they agree to sell. If they paid the $50,000 transfer fee in advance, they would be able to sell anytime afterwards and the money from sales would go to their families if they died before selling it themselves.

Having exhausted these subjects for the moment we went on to a discussion of the Driver's Fund which now has $2.4 million in it.

  • Some drivers wanted the fund to be used as a down payment for medical insurance.
  • Since $2.4 million obviously isn't enough to cover such benefits, I thought that we should raise the percentage for the fund from sales to ten per cent in order to help it grow faster.
  • Tone Lee thought that we should build a recreation center for all drivers to use. 
  • Director Hayashi came up with the idea of giving money to drivers who had been robbed or in an accident so that they could have time off to relax and psychologically recover.
Tariq Mehmood himself honored us with his presence while we were talking and sat silently listening to what we were saying for fifteen or twenty minutes. I had never before seen him go without speaking for such an extended period of time and wondered if he had been reading How to Win Friends and Influence People or I'm Okay, You're Okay. Had the Mehmood become a team player and developed an interest in the thought, opinions and feelings of others?

"The Driver's Fund is not for discussion !" Tariq loudly decreed when he finally graced us with his speech. "We will now talk about the sales program!" Then, he lectured us in a loud, abrasive monotone for a half an hour, before proclaiming, "The age should be 70!"

There didn't seem to be much to add so we went back to discussing ways to grow the Driver's Fund so that it would be large enough to help with medical benefits. Christopher Fulkerson mentioned that the companies owned the drivers  millions of dollars from an agreement made with the old Taxi Commission. I thought a percentage of the meter drop could be helpful.

"We are not here to talk about medical benefits!" Mehmood commanded. "$2.4 Million dollars is not enough for a medical program!" He then proceeded to spend eight and a half minutes educating us on the details of his profound insight. Then, he left.

The next sessions will be on Tuesday, November 22nd from 2 to 5 and 5 to 8 as per the below schedule. Earplugs are optional.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TAC Proposed Regulatory Legislation - An End to Pre-K Sales?

The Council Liaison introduced several proposed changes in taxicab regulations at the 10/24/11 TAC meeting attended by councilor Bill Mounsey (photo).

Highlights included:

1. Changing the current requirement for annual driver renewal (A-cards) from December 31st to the month of the driver's birthday.

2. Ending the requirement for evidence of financial responsibility for new driver permits.

3. 100 of the 156 wheel chair pick-ups per year required by Ramp Taxi must be reported through the paratransit debit card system.

But the highlights of highlights were:

Changes in the Taxi Medallion Sales Pilot Program

These include:

1. Clarifying that a medallion buyer may sell his medallion at any time.

2. A Qualified Seller shall become ineligible to sell his or her Medallion if he or she does not execute a sales agreement, in a form provided by the SFMTA, within 15 days of SFMTA's notice to the Medallion Holder that the SFMTA has offered his or her Medallion to a Qualified Purchaser.

3. Re-opening the opportunity to sell his or her medallion to any Medallion Holder who is subject to the Full-Time Driving Requirement who has attained or will attain the age of 60 as of December 31, 2012.

Number 2 is somewhat confusing - especially in light of number 3. Does this mean that a medallion holder will never get another chance to sell his or her medallion if he or she doesn't jump at the first opportunity? Or, will she or he have another opportunity come up whenever the Taxi Services runs out of medallions to sell? It's certainly not clear to me.

Number 3, on the other hand, is clear but controversial. The proposed legislation excludes Pre-K medallion holders from another opportunity to sell their medallions. All drivers over 70 had been given the change to sell when the Sales Pilot Program first went into effect.

Naturally, the measure led to a sharp division - generally between owners and medallion holders vs non-medallion holding drivers -  among both the Taxi Advisory Council and the people in attendance. 

Drivers on the Waiting List saw this as a good move for four main reasons: (1) Pre-K's have already made a million dollars off of each medallion, (2) They had a chance to sell last year and were greedy not to do so, (3) Even if they can't sell, they would still have a guaranteed income of over $2,500 a month and (4) The Pre-K medallions would ultimately end up going back to the Waiting List.

The owner/medallion holder faction argued that the legislation was: (1) Unfair because the medallion holders were not informed before they made their choice last year, (2) They should have the right to sell any time because, unlike Post-k's, they actually paid for their medallions.(3) Thus not to let them sell would be "unconscionable."

The owner faction moved to squash the legislation and the measure was put to a vote which ended in a six-six tie, meaning that the legislation goes to the SFMTA Board for public hearings and the final thumbs up or thumbs down.

You find the complete list of Revised Taxi Regulations at the SFMTA Taxi website.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

TAC 10.24.11

The Monday 10/24/11 TAC meeting covered a variety of topics.

The photo shows (from left) driver and dispatcher Bill Minikel, driver and blogger John Han, medallion holder and Yellow Cab representative Tim Lapp.

In what other industry can you find councilors of such uniqueness and diversity?

Illegal Taxi & Limo Update

SFMTA Investigator Eric Richholt thanked all the drivers who have sent him photos and videos of bandit cabs and limos and said to keep the info coming.  He can be reached at: or 510-867-4694.

Richholt stated that he and his partners have handed out over one hundred $90 white zone citations to limos and nine $5,000 tickets to illegal cabs, including three for not having A-cards.

A few of the drivers expressed impatience with what has been done. They wanted a bigger crackdown on limos and town cars acting as cabs. Eric said that it was more difficult to prove that limos were making illegal pick-ups but that he and his colleagues would be going after them in the near future.

These drivers appeared to forget that this is the first systematic attack on illegal vehicles in memory (mine anyway) and is just getting underway. It wouldn't exist at all if Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi hadn't written legislation to allow MTA investigators to give these citations and hadn't gotten the law passed by a hostile Board of Supervisors that thinks illegal taxis and limos serve the public. She also had to hire and train the investigators. Taxi Services needs a few more of them in order to maintain a presence on the streets both night and day.

Richholt said that they were prioritizing illegal taxis because they often have substandard equipment, rarely have insurance and thus are a danger to the public.

We Can Finally Use the Bike Lanes - Sometimes

After over a year of discussions, Hayashi has finally talked the powers that be into allowing cabs restricted use of bike lanes for picking up and dropping off customers.

Taxicabs will be issued bumper stickers indicating that the cabs have the right to be in the bike lanes for the above purposes. Taxis are supposed to use the lanes only as a last resort if there are no other safe locations nearby. We can only use separated bike lanes to drop off disabled or elderly customers. (Click photo for more detail.)

We are only supposed to pick customers up in a separated bike lane if the dispatcher tells us that the customer is disabled. Does this mean that we have to blow off disabled customers who try to flag us down from these areas? I think this item needs a bit more thought and discussion.

At any rate, we are only supposed to enter a separated bike lane at the beginning of the block and exit at the end.

For more information contact the SFMTA.

TAC Will Finally Be Able to Present Proposals to the SFMTA Board

After an exchange of letters between Taxi Advisory Council Chair Chris Sweis and SFMTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose, it has been decided that Sweis will be able to present TAC's recommendations directly to the SFMTA Board at the their bi-weekly meetings.

This should put an end to a period when no recommendations were acted upon by the Board.

For background see TAC: or, Whatever Happened to Our Recommendations?...

New Town Hall Meeting Schedule

Friday, October 21, 2011

On Supervisors and the 5% Credit Card Fee

Conspicuously absent from the credit card discussions at the recent Government Audit and Oversight Committee chaired by Supervisor David Campos (photo) was the simple fact that San Francisco's taxi drivers have been given a 24% meter increase  WITHOUT A GATE INCREASE.

This is what you might call the missing context for the debates. There are several things to be said about this.

1. In my 28 year cab driving memory, this is the first time that a gate increase did not accompany a meter increase. They have usually been raised simultaneous. One company I worked for inflated the gates before the meter went up.

2. If you assume that half the cab rides are paid by credit cards (way high) this means the 5% credit card fees = 2.5% of a taxi driver's gross (it's really more like 1% or 2%).

3. This means that the actual gain for drivers with the meter increase of 24% minus the gross credit card fee of 2.5% = 21.5%.

4. I once knew a cab driver who had a $200 ride and did nothing but bitch about how much money he spent for gas on the trip ... Hmmm. This seems like a non sequitur. Why do I think of it now?

Quid Pro Quo

John Lazar, President and General Manager of Luxor Cab, was telling people that not including a gate increase with the meter increase was an oversight and a sign of the incompetence of Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The cab companies had been crying about their credit charges to Hayashi so she finally agreed to pass on the charges (at the same percentage as they were passed by most other cities in the country) on the condition that there would be NO GATE INCREASE going along with a meter increase. This was talked about at length and in detail at the Town Hall meetings last spring.

Furthermore, it was clear (to me at least) that the only reason the SFMTA Board did not to include a gate increase was because of the quid pro quo that Hayashi wrote into the legislation. In other words, there would have been a gate increase if credit card charges had not been passed on to drivers.

Let's do a litte more arithmetic.

1. John Lazar wanted an 8% gate increase - on top of the 5%. If this had been granted (and the main reasons that it wasn't were Hayashi's legislation and negotiation skills) 10.5% would have been taken from the 24% making the net raise 13.5%.

2. On the other hand, if the credit card charges had not been passed to the drivers, Lazar and his pals would have been pushing for 10% or 12 % of the gate. This would have worked out to net raises of 12% or 14%.

3. In other words, drivers are between 7% and 10% better off paying 5% credit card charges and having the gates controlled than they are under any other realistic scenario.

Note that I used the word "realistic." Some drivers will say the companies should eat the credit card charges and the drivers should continue with the same (or even lower) gates. Anybody can say anything but, in the world of real politics, that isn't going to happen.

It seems to me that the important factor is the bottom line - how much the drivers take home. And,  in my opinion, we're better off with controlled gates.

Is the 5% Written in Stone?

Of course not.

Hayashi has been trying to find ways to lower that figure almost from the start. The board on the left is from a Town Hall meeting last May when lowering or eliminating credit cards fees was discussed.

 Furthermore, Hayashi is one of the first persons to popularize the use of the Square (with a 2.75% fee) and other similar devices (although there has turned out to be problems with charge backs with some of these apps). And, as she pointed out to the Supervisors, there have been many legal and other changes in the last year that need to be studied that could result in lowered credit card fees.

There also are all kinds of legal, technical and social issues involved. Off the top my head, for instance, allowing cabs not to take credit cards might end up chasing business to Uber and other limo services. In fact, it already has. Having customers pick up the charges could have the same effect. Putting, say, a three dollar surcharge for credit card use might stimulate customers to stiff cab drivers on the tip - and so on.

Sounds like food for some more Town Hall Meetings.

Oh yes - I almost forgot. John Lazar inadvertently tipped his hand when he told the supervisors that he took in $1 million worth of credit card charges and paid out $40,000 every month. That = 4%, not 5%.

Sounds like 1% of wiggle room for Hayashi.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What I don't want people to know I said about Ed Lee

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee

I didn't go to the meeting but I did watch much of it on video.

I have to say that I've witnessed few things more absurd, more ludicrous than watching Supervisor David Campos sternly lecturing Hayshi for not doing her job properly after she's negotiated the biggest net pay raise for cab drivers since the taxi unions were busted 35 years ago.

I also found Supervisor David Chiu's assertion that the cab industry should look at the overall business including ways to improve service entertaining. What does he think we've been going for the last two years? I'm one of a couple a dozen drivers and industry people who've devoted at least 300 hours to the task under the leadership of Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi.

This a complicated problem but there have been a few good ideas including Open Taxi Access - a plan that originated from a discussion between Ms. Hayashi and John Wolper of Cabulous.  If the SFMTA Board ever gets around to passing the plan, cab service in the neighborhoods will drastically improve and taxi drivers will make more money.

Maybe the Board of Supervisors can urge the SFMTA Board to pass the legislation.

Finally, thanks to Supervisor Mark Farrell for taking Dirty Harry's advice to heart and knowing his limitations. Supervisor Farrell voted not to continue with these meaningless hearings because he doesn't fully understand the issues and the MTA is already dealing with them.

Kudos to Ed Lee

For being the first Major during the 28 years that I've been in the taxi business not to try to pick up easy votes by blindly calling for more cabs. Unlike Supervisor Scott Weiner and his intuitive insights (Does he gaze at his navel? Does he talk to God?), Mayor Lee wants to place questions of cab need and service, etc on a more scientific basis and has put out a bid for experts to do PC&N studies - an idea, naturally, that originated with Deputy Director Chrisiane Hayashi during a Town Hall Meeting a few years ago.

Go Ed! You've got my vote.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

On the Hunt with Eric and Charles

Last Friday night I tagged along again with SFMTA investigators Eric Richholt and Charles Castillo. Instead of busting limos like they did last August, they were after illegal taxis which is more complex.

The  investigators can't ticket the vehicles simply because they look like taxicabs. Fake cab drivers have to be caught in the act of picking a customer up before a citation can be handed out.

 This means that Charles and Eric do a lot of basic police work like compiling records, checking addresses and looking for patterns. They now have a listing of 25 illegal taxis with vehicle licenses.
They have tracked down locations where the bogus cabs are parked and know where some of the phony cab drivers live.     (To read complete posts click on the photos).

Taxi Services will soon have the ability to look up the addresses where the cars are registered which will make the job much easier.  In the meantime, the duo spend a lot of time following bandit cabs and staking out places where they know fake taxis are usually parked.

If this seems like mucho work, there is a reward. Thanks to legislation drawn up by Deputy Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi, there is an administrative fine of $5,000. So far eight tickets have been given out (although three of those were for driving a legal cab without an A-card). Furthermore, these administrative fines cannot be lowered but in one case a Hearing Officer took pity on the bandit driver and gave him a 24-month payment plan.

Eric and Charles have a goal of wiping out fake taxis in San Francisco. "If there were fifteen illegal cabs in the Mission," Eric said, "and we only got five, we wouldn't be satisfied."

We started out in the Excelsior and Outer Mission checking out known places and hoping that the drivers would take the pseudo cabs out so we could bust them. Below are a few of the illegal cabs that are part of Charles' and Eric's 25.

Eric spotted 712 driving on Mission and we followed hoping that the driver'd pick up a flag but he only went home for a break. We drove back to Mission searching for more illegals.

Eric spent several years policing drug gangs in Oakland. I asked him if that was what made him such a polite person. He gave me a wry smile and said, "No - that was just a lot of fun" in a way that made me think I'd rather have him with me than against me in a fight.

He soon spotted a bandit that they'd been looking for carrying passengers on Mission Street. Eric whipped a wild u-turn that was worth at least two points on a DMV printout (I wanna be a cop in my next life) and followed the fake cab to a house in the Excelsior. We waited a half block away while the driver dropped off a family and drove back onto the street. The hunt was on.

Eric pulled the classic maneuver of passing the bogus taxi and letting it pass us a bit later.

Charles and Eric recognized the driver from a photograph that had been sent to them by a real cab driver. The real driver had confronted the fraud and threatened to call the cops. The guy jumped out of his vehicle, said that he was a cop and expressed his feelings about the threat. Eric now calls him Public Enemy #1.

It's not a good idea, by the way, to confront these guys. Nothing good can come of it. Just get the car's phony name and number, license and phone numbers as well as any photos or videos and send them to Eric at

We followed P.E.1 from Ocean and Mission to Valencia and Ceasar Chavez where he lost us at a red light. I think he made us and took evasive maneuvers but Eric didn't agree. Whatever - the dude was gone.

We went downtown, spent a couple of hours without finding much and were about to head home when we turned down Polk and spotted Day Cab parked across from McTeague's.

Charles got out, did his trout fishing thing "can't spook the fish" and flushed the bandit driver out by desperately flagging down full cabs. He used to be an actor and played the role beautifully.

Charles got into the bogus cab, went up Sutter to Gough and had the man pull over. Eric blocked off the car and politely busted him.

The fake cab driver turned off his meter and told Charles to say that he was only being given a ride. Charles stayed in character and just said, "Hey mon, what's happening?"

The man has gone to a great deal of trouble to make his car look like a cab. The meter even works though it starts at under $3 and goes up faster than a regular meter. After just two blocks it read $4.50.

When the word starts getting out about the $5,000 fines, my guess is that a lot of these guys are going to decide against using their cars to pick up a little extra cash.

Once again, Eric's e-mail address is  Send all the names, license and phone numbers of illegal taxis that you might have his way along with any photos or videos.

Charles and Eric would also like you to call them to report any illegal vehicles you see. During most of the week they work the day shift but they are going to be hunting bandit taxis most Friday or Saturday nights from now on. Eric's cell phone number is 510-867-4694.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What Did the Cabbies Do to Get Themselves Killed?

The above question was asked by a neatly dressed, educated 25-year old man. I answered the question with a question.
 "I don't know - what do women do to get themselves raped?"

The man was "taken aback" by the passion of my response. He mumbled an apology of sorts and said he just wondered what was going on in the driver's lives that led to their being killed. 

Was this an oxymoron or just moronic?

Talk about avoiding the obvious. The fact that a taxi driver carries cash, is supposed to pick everybody up no matter how they look, and can be easily taken to places where there are no witnesses (red dots on map) might have something to do with these murders apparently never occurred to the nice, young man.

What was startling was his unstated assumption that cab drivers are somehow different than he is meaning lower class and living in a culture of violence, or possibly violent themselves.

This is a popular theme on T.V. where the killed cab driver often turns out to be an ex-Serbian torturer who was revenged by his victims, or an ex-gang member or involved in a drug ring. More to the point, perhaps, was a Law and Order re-run where the driver was killed because he 86'd a customer for smoking a cigar in his taxi.

A number of assaults on cab drivers, and possibly murders, do start with analogous situations. A driver was recently assaulted and robbed in San Francisco after he tried to collect a hundred dollar "barf fee" from a customer who had thrown up in his taxi. A similar attack took place in Athens Georgia last August.

If you don't mind a personal note, I've had a few customers throw punches in my direction because I said something they didn't want to hear - like, "stop screaming and get out of my cab!" I've also had two customers who threatened to kill me.

My favorite was a guy who said he'd kill me if I didn't make an illegal left turn from the parking lane on Broadway onto Stockton across four lanes of heavy traffic during rush-hour. Claimed he'd be late for work if I didn't do it. I told him that he should start for work earlier and insisted that he leave my taxi. Talk is cheap. All he did was glare and leave.

But cab drivers frequently are attacked. I could have said exactly the same thing to another man and been by shot or savaged. In my opinion, the difference between being assaulted or not is simply a matter of meeting the wrong person at the wrong time as in this January, 2010 robbery of driver Balvinder Singh near the Castro. But, Mr. Singh survived. Many drivers have not been so lucky.

Twenty-seven taxi drivers were killed in San Francisco between 1947 and 2007 according to the Taxi Library that has been complied by Charles Rathbone, assistant manager of Luxor Cab. I've only personally known one driver who was murdered but I have a little information on a few more cab driver killing:

1969  - Paul Stine, 29, was apparently slain by the infamous Zodiac killer at the Upper middle-class intersection of Washington and Cherry for no rational reason.

1984 - Geogre Ring, mid-forties, was murdered at the then tough intersection of Grove and Scott. It appeared to be a botched robbery with about fifty bloody dollars strewn around in the cab.

1986 - Leonard Smith, 46, was apparently the victim of another botched robbery. He was probably shot in the Western addition. He was driving toward an emergency room when he died.

1989 (D. 1993) - John D. Colman, twenties, was a student who was driving a cab to pay for college. He was hit in the back of the head with a blunt object when he answered a radio call in the Ingleside district. He fell into a coma and died four years later.

1992 - Richard Harcos, forties, was killed at a housing project on Blythehdale Avenue. Harcos had carried the groceries of two elderly women to their apartment and was confronted by half a dozen guys when he got back to his taxi. One of them shot him in the face.

1993 - David Hayes, forties, who drove for City Cab in San Francisco was shot in Richmond, California about an hour after he started his shift at midnight.

He was the one murder victim I knew. He was a small Englishman from Liverpool. He played in bands and knew everything there was to know about rock and roll music. For this reason everyone called him "Star." I never heard his real name until after he was killed. He worked the midnight to morning shift so he could do his gigs first. He often drove me home when I finished working. He was one of the funniest and sweetest guys I've ever met. He was a delightful person to be around. There is no possibility that he confronted anybody.

My guess is that he was killed because he only had the twenty dollars in change on him with which he started every shift.

2002 - Sukpal Singh, 52, was shot at 4 am on 24th St. and Folsom by somebody outside the taxicab. Might have been a hate crime. Might have been a stray bullet. Nobody knows for sure.

I could go on but I hope I've answered the question of what these people did to get themselves killed.  For more information, check out this memoriam for 2,149 murdered cab drivers compiled by Mr. Rathbone.

Mr. Rathbone has also done considerable research on how to prevent homicides.

It is necessary to be careful but it's also sometime hard to know what that means. The problem is to know when, and when not, to be paranoid. One article about the attack on Balvinder Singh, theorized that the fact that Mr. Singh was "lured" up States Street led to his robbery.

And, it's true that States Street is poorly lit, has "little foot traffic and "only one way in and out." But it's also in an upper middle-class neighborhood and is the fastest, cheapest way to go from the Castro to the Haight. I've driven customers up this street hundreds of times. If I didn't use States Street, I wouldn't be doing my job properly.

I think that the most important factor in a cab robbery or a murder is not where you are but who you are with.

Veteran drivers like myself think that we have a special radar that allows us to see who is, and is not, dangerous. But many of the people on the Taxi Library murdered list had driven cabs for years. The rest of us are just damn lucky.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

TAC Votes to Lower Seller's Age to 60

At the September 26, 2011 meeting, the Taxi Advisory Council voted 10 - 4 to recommend (for whatever it's worth) that the SFMTA Board lower the age for medallion sellers from 70 to 60. The legislation would include a 30-day window for potential sellers to agree to sell their medallions and a later 15-day window to decide not to sell once an eligible buyer has been found. 

There were several motivating factors for the vote.

  • According to Mike Harris of Taxi Services, the SFMTA will have exhausted the list of eligible sellers by mid November.
  •  Many of the original potential sellers had declined to sell because they either wanted to use their medallions for a longer length of time or they thought the price would increase. Many of them have since changed their minds and want to sell but are no longer eligible to do so. It's no accident that Carl Macmurdo of the MHA was one of the people pushing for the vote.
  • Most medallion holders and owners want the sales portion of the Pilot Program to continue.
There was some opposition. 
  1. SFCDA President and TAC member Barry Korengold wanted the age to be lowered to only 65 because he thought that lowering it to 60 would reduce the number of medallions available for drivers on the waiting list.
  2. Councilor Rua Graffis of the UTW said that she wouldn't vote for any legislation helping company owners and medallion holders until ordinary drivers had been given retirement and medical benefits.
Personally, although I don't have a vote, I decided to support the age 60 limit (I'm 66 myself) because of a huge change in demographics over the last few years. 

When we were putting the Pilot Plan together, 60 was the original age projected for a seller. It was changed after Taxi Services did a count and found that there were around 600 medallion holders over the age of 60. The people at the Town Hall Meetings reduced the age to 70 primarily because they didn't want to put too many taxis up for sale all at once.

The new figures show that there are now only 168 medallion holders over the age of 60. Selling about 150 medallions a year would be about all the system could handle anyway. Besides, there are only 39 holders between ages 65 and 69 so it didn't seem worth haggling over. Korengold claimed that  it would make all taxis transferable in about five years but my arithmetic makes that closer to ten - providing, of course, that no other medallions are made available for the list, which is unlikely.

The reason for the 30 and 15-day time limits is that numerous original would-be sellers backed out on the sales at the last moment - in one case after a buyer had purchased a car. This made things very difficult for both potential buyers and Taxi Services. 

It's unclear to me, however, whether or not these time limits set up a situation where, if a medallion holder turns down a chance to sell, he or she would never get a chance again???

A New Idea for Drivers on the Waiting List
Richard Moles (photo), who has been driving cab for 26 years but only put his name on the Waiting List 13 years ago, has also put his name on the Buyer's List. He says that he has enough money to buy a medallion but would want his purchase to be made similar to the way ramp taxis are handled now.

What he wants is to be able to buy the medallion but keep his name on the waiting list so that, if an "earned" medallion becomes available, he would be able to sell the one he bought and be given the medallion that he waited and worked so many years to get.

The idea has been received with enthusiasm by many drivers.

On the Agenda

For reasons I don't fully understand the next TAC meeting won't be held until Monday, October 24th, 2011. There are two points of special interest on the agenda.
1. People who have an idea for reforming or modifying the Pilot Program will have a chance to explain their thoughts at the meeting. Chair Chris Sweis wants to receive a written copy of the plan in question by Wednesday, Oct. 19th, 2011. His e-mail address is "Chris Sweis" <> The papers should follow the  format below:

a.       Summary of the proposed industry business model
b.      Negative and positive impacts on:
                                                               i.      Drivers
                                                             ii.      Permit holders
                                                            iii.      Cab companies
                                                           iv.      SFMTA
                                                             v.      Overall service to the public
c.       Transition plan from how we currently operate to the intended model

2. Should the TAC recommend that Taxi Services become a Division within the SFMTA instead of the subdivision that it is now?

This subject was put forth by councilor Bill Minikel (photo) and agreed with by the vast majority of the TAC members. Show up on October 24th to give your input and find out what the recommendation will be.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

TAC: or, Whatever Happened to Our Recommendations?

Perhaps the most interesting thing that came out of the September 26, 2011 Taxi Advisory Council meeting was the fact that nobody knows why a dozen or so recommendations made by the TAC have not been acted upon by the SFMTA Board.

Chair Chris Sweis (photo) originally thought that the council would report directly to the Board of Directors and that the TAC was analogous to the Citizens Advisory Council (CAC). What Sweis now understands is that "our recommendations go through staff first and then staff presents to the board.

In any case, TAC is an advisory council and the Board is not bound by the recommendations. The Directors can decide to accept or reject the suggestions, or send them back to staff to be modified.

So far, however, the only recommendation that has been discussed or acted upon by the Board was the recent meter increase.

Sweis says that all the other the recommendations are "in the hands of Sonali Bose," the Chief Financial Officer of the SFMTA and the person to whom staff at Taxi Services reports. But what Ms. Bose intends to do with them is a continuing mystery. 

At the TAC, Sweis said that he didn't know why everybody should be wasting their time coming to the meetings if their advice isn't even going to be discussed or acknowledged much less put into effect.

The Chair has sent an e-mail inquiry to the SFMTA Board asking for clarification but so far hasn't received a response.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tariq: Or, "It's True If I Say It's True."

There were 170 hours of Town Hall Meetings leading up to the creation of the Pilot Plan in April 2009.

Tariq Mehmood showed up at around the 160th hour, after the plan was more or less in place. Claiming that 90% of the drivers were behind him, Mehmood declared that the taxis should all be sold at auctions. 

This was similar to they way he behaved at the airport meetings in December 2010 where the record shows that he said,

"Each driver of the taxis industry knows me personally... 6,000 drivers are known to me but they cut me out.  I had to push myself into it.  As regard to the people, the 6,000 drivers, 18,000 family members has come to you to beg you."  

Tariq rarely mentions the merits of an idea. In fact, he appears to be incapable of arguing rationally. Instead, he takes a position then claims that he has 90% of the drivers or 6,000 or 18,000 people behind him. He once told me that my thoughts didn't matter because I only spoke for myself.

Mostly what he did in 2010 at SFO and at the 2009 Town Hall meetings was try to take over and gum up the works.

Selling medallions at auctions was a position that had already been discussed and dismissed before Tariq showed up at the Town Hall meetings because it would penalize both drivers on the waiting list and those with A-card seniority. 

He gave two memorable speeches at the Town Halls.

In the first, he said that he was fighting, not for himself, but for other drivers. He, Tariq Mehmood, didn't even want to be a medallion owner and had never put his name on the list.

In the second, he took credit for the medallion sales pilot program and praised Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi for her role in helping negotiating it.

At the last Town Hall meeting, Hayashi informed us that she had closed the Waiting List in order to preserve A-Card seniority for the purpose of future medallion distribution, which is a key element of the Pilot Program.

Mahmood started screaming at her that she shouldn't have closed the list without warning him. He hasn't stopped shouting at her since.

He was not arguing that she shouldn't have closed the list at all, mind you, only that she shouldn't have closed it before Tariq Mehmood - the man who'd claimed a week ealier that he didn't want to own a medallion - had had a chance to put his own name on that list so he could buy a medallion.

Flexible Reality.

The "truth" for Mehmood appears to be whatever he says it is at any particular moment. 

This truth was borne home to me at the August 8, 2011 TAC meeting that resulted in recommendations to curb illegal brokering that were passed by the Council by a vote of 14 to 1.  

Contrary to everyone else who spoke at the meeting, Tariq declared that brokering was a minor problem and shouldn't even be discussed.

My inside sources tell me that the practice includes from 200 to 500 cabs and involves millions of dollars a year.

Why would Tariq Mehmood, who lives in the milieu where the brokering takes place, deny that it exists?

A Man Who Lives to Hate.

"Tariq reminds me of the character in (James) Joyce who lives just to hate," a driver who'd known Mehmood for years told me.

The quote seems apt.

Hayashi isn't the first person that Tariq has trashed. Instead of arguing a position, he makes personal attacks on anybody who disagrees with him. At various times, this has included Mark Gruberg, Brad Newsham, Christopher Fulkerson, members of the Airport Commission, Sonali Bose and Tone Lee.

Mehmood and his disciples have sent dozens of attack e-mails my way. The one below is my favorite. It was supposed to have been sent by one of his goons but he can't hide his unique style from me.

"Bullshit and lies. That's what you are doing. Are you defending your girlfriend. Wait till she get fired. The die is casted. Murai did not defend her. I found Tariq the most powerful and great leader this industry has ever seen."

Mehmood, of course, has made a special project out of hating Deputy Director Hayashi and has spent over a year and a half going around trying to get her fired. At this point he probably can't even stop. He's boasted so often that he'd be able to get rid of her that he'd lose face with his followers if he failed to do so.

The 2011 Town Hall Meetings.

His animosity reached its height during the these meetings when he showed up at every one of the three two-a-day sessions to harass and verbally attack Deputy Director Hayashi for long periods of time.

The Town Hall meetings are intended to be democratic with people being able to speak without time limits as long as they are reasonable and stay on the subject.

Tariq Mehmood, who has accused other people of being communists, actually borrowed an old trick that communists used to take over unions in the 1930's. He undermined the democratic process by bringing an entourage of 6 to 12 people with him for every meeting. Thus, he had a built in majority for almost every vote and, even when he didn't, he claimed he did. In one case, he went out into the atrium next door with 9 of his disciples and returned to claim that all 7,000 drivers were behind him. 

Mehmood rarely stayed on point, constantly interrupted other drivers, monopolized the floor, repeated himself ad nauseam, and, incredibly, complained that he was not being given a fair chance to speak. His preposterous behavior would have been entertaining if he wasn't so vicious.

When he sat down, one of his disciples would usually take over to either express the same viewpoints or harass the Deputy Director. His acolytes repeatedly told Hayashi that if she did what Tariq wanted they would make her popular and successful among all the people of San Francisco, but, if she went against the great Mehmood's wishes, she would suffer the consequences of his wrath. 

Hayashi responded saying, "it's not my job to be popular."

In the end, the only thing that drivers not in Tariq's entourage agreed with Mehmood on was that they didn't like back-seat terminals. His insistence that the meter should be increased 40% was thought ridiculous and most drivers liked Hayashi's compromise plan on electronic waybills that would allow the MTA to gather statistical information without taking individual driver information.

Medallion Financial Of New York

Mehmood has repeatedly attacked Hayashi for conspiring with Hansu Kim of Desoto cab and Rebecca Lytle of the San Francisco Federal Credit Union (SFFCU), to cheat San Francisco cab drivers by keeping a loan company "so big it's on the Stock Market" out of The City. These  verbal assaults included a 40 minute diatribe carefully transcribed by Julie Rosenberg (photo) of the MTA during the Town Hall meetings.

Talk about Doublethink

Setting up driver loans though SFFCU is actually one of Hayashi's finer accomplishments and the terms the drivers are getting are far better than many people expected when the Pilot Plan was drawn up. 

Tariq's "Evidence" for a Conspiracy.

Hansu Kim introduced Christiane Hayashi to Rebecca Lytle.

That's it, folks! That's the alleged evidence. That's all there is. Nada mas.

In short, Mehmood's accusations are pure slander.

Some Facts.

A taxi cab medallion hadn't been sold in San Francisco for over 30 years when the Pilot Plan was put together and many people, including Mark Gruberg of the UTW, thought that nobody would loan money to a cab driver.

Deputy Director Hayashi had trouble finding anyone willing to risk money on such a loan. At one point, she invited more than 35 banks and credit unions to a meeting to discuss medallion loans and only four loan officers showed up. Three of them left before Hayashi's presentation was over and the other guy never came back. 

Even the San Francisco Federal Credit Union originally declined to participate because this was an untested loan program.

San Francisco Federal and Montauk Credit Unions.

Some time after the above meeting, Hayashi was contacted by the Montauk Credit Union of New York (which has a lot of experience making loans to cab drivers) to get the ball rolling. Then,  Rebecca Lytle became Vice President of Lending at the SF Federal Credit union and became interested in the Pilot Program. Lytle worked with the Montauk Credit Union and convinced her superiors at her  uredit union to rethink their opposition to medallion loans.

The result is the Pilot Plan Sales Program that is tailored to San Francisco's unique situation.

Two things that both Hayashi and the drivers who helped draft the Pilot Plan insisted on were: (1) there be no prepayment or other hidden fees and (2) that the loan payments be no larger than the monthly amount that a taxi company pays a "gates & gas" medallion holder. 

Both of these conditions have been met by Montauk and SFFCU. The program has been going on for a little over a year and about 150 cab drivers have received loans. So far, no cab driver has been turned down for a loan nor has anyone defaulted on a loan. In fact, no driver has even missed a payment.

Ms. Lytle says, 

"We’ve moved our rates down twice now because of movement downward in the interest rate markets and because we’ve gained a little more knowledge about the borrowers ..." 

For a look at the San Francisco Federal Credit Union's current rates click here.

So, are San Francisco's taxi drivers being cheated by Christiane, Rebecca and Hansu?

What Rates?

A good way to answer that question might be to compare SFFCU's rates with the rates of Tariq Mehmood's favorite loan company.

The problem is that - unlike SFFCU or Bank of America or Chase or Wells Fargo or any other bank or credit union that I checked -  Medallion Financial does not publish its loan rates.

Why? It's one those questions that would seem to answer itself. If their rates were lower than the competition they'd certainly want you to know about it, wouldn't they?

And, they also hit their taxi customers with prepayment penalties. This means that, if drivers tries to pay off their loans early, Medallion Financial charges them penalties equaling three months of payments for every prepayment. Grotesque but apparently true. There are stories of cab drivers who've paid on their loans for years only to discover that they owed Medallion Financial more money than they had borrowed in the first place.

And, Tariq Mehmood has accused Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi of not letting this company do business in San Francisco. Can you imagine that?

But, like so much that Mehmood says, it's simply not true. 

The Deputy Director will allow any loan company that meets her criteria to do business here. Medallion Financial did inquire about making taxi medallion loans locally and Hayashi sent them her guidelines (i.e. No prepayment penalties or other hidden fees, payments be no larger than the monthly amount that a taxi company pays a "gates & gas" medallion holder.) 

Medallion Financial never got back to her.

So Why Does Tariq Mehmood Keep Trying to Bring Medallion Financial into San Francisco?

Is that another question that answers itself?

A driver who had aligned herself with Mehmood during the first few summer protests changed her mind after watching Tariq spend 3 or 4 hours a night at the airport trying to sell drivers on Medallion Financial. 

"He'd tell them not to worry about the prepayment penalties because nobody paid off their loans early," she said. 

Tariq Mehmood, the self-proclaimed "powerful and great leader of the taxicab drivers," has repeatedly declared that he has no connection with Medallion Financial of New York.