Thursday, May 5, 2011

Chris Hayashi: An Appreciation

The first time I saw Chris Hayashi was at an MHA board meeting where she had come on a Saturday to do "outreach." She introduced herself, sat down with a cup of coffee and was soon joking and laughing with the drivers. The most ordinary of scenes yet I was struck by how extraordinary it really was.

When former Taxi Commission Director Heidi Machen said that cab drivers "were all either ex-convicts or soon would be" she was merely expressing publicly a view that most people in City Hall appeared to hold in private.

Back in the day, for instance, every time I renewed my A-Card a woman used to tell me that I should feel "honored and privileged" to be driving a taxi in San Francisco. After listening to this for three years, I said, "and the City of San Francisco should feel honored and privileged to have me driving here." She stared back, appalled by my impertinence.

And, so-called liberal Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver once decided to run on a platform of "improving" taxi service. Her idea of doing this was to herd a group of us into a room, make us stand in a straight line and have us show her our identification cards while she walked back and forth glaring at us like the commandant of a penal colony. When I asked her what the point was, she ordered me to, "Shut up!"

So, taken in context, to see the Director of Taxis joking and laughing with a bunch cab drivers just like they were humans was an extraordinary thing - that would soon become ordinary through repetition.

Listening to Drivers.

No slander could be more absurd than the current image (fueled by half-truths, innuendo, quotes out of context and lies) of Hayashi as a super snob colluding with the companies to cheat the drivers whom she despises.

On the contrary. She's a driver's director. She's the only person in the taxi industry (in government for that matter) ever to ask me what I thought or wanted. And, I'm not alone. She didn't only talk to medallion holders. She did "outreach" with  the SFCDA and the UTW.

Her Town Hall meetings have been a model for openness and free discussion. The Pilot Plan was put together primarily from driver's suggestions. When Hayashi realized that most drivers weren't coming to the meetings, she set up a table at the SFO so she could hear what the airport players had to say.

In short, she has given many drivers a voice for the first time.

What Else Has she Done for the Drivers?

 - She's written legislation outlawing enforced tipping by taxi companies. Faced with (how shall I put it?) the SFPD's lack of enthusiasm for cooperating with Taxi Services, Hayashi has drafted and passed legislation that would allow her staff to bust illegal limos and taxis.

- She also spent a year fighting for the funds to hire two investigators who are being trained and should start enforcing the above laws soon.

- She helped the drivers create the Pilot Plan which kept Former Mayor Gavin Newsom from destroying the taxi industry as we know it.

Without Hayashi, either all cabs would have been sold at open auction or some mad plan by MTA Board member Malcom Heinicke for creating endless income streams would be holding sway.

Without Hayashi, there would be no Driver's Fund and the Waiting List would be history.

Hayashi has also been the main advocate for Cabulous which is already boosting the incomes of many drivers and will help everyone - drivers and customers - once Open Taxi Access is accepted.

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