Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Protest: A Great Time Out

Green Cab driver Joe Mirabile was still pumped up when we finished our shifts last night.

"Biggest protest we've ever had," he enthusiastically told me. "We've never been so unified."

Very true. Three to four hundred people and over a hundred honking cabs (there would have been more except the cops started turning the taxis away after 1:30 pm) were clearly unified in their dislike of 5% credit card fees, backseat terminals and the way the MTA has been running the cab business for the last two years; and everyone was having a grand old time expressing their hostility.

When you looked beneath the surface, however, you could see divisiveness lurking.

For one thing, not everybody knew what they were actually protesting. The driver in the Luxor on the right was joyfully honking and waving. But when I asked why he was against Single Operator Permits, he said that somebody had just stuck the sign on his cab.

Another driver was holding a placard that said "Sonali Bose Must Go." I asked him who Sonali Bose (The MTA's CFO and Chris Hayashi's immediate superior) was and he said he didn't know.

In short, much of this so-called unity was orchestrated.  During the course of the protest and the board meetings. I came across people who were:
  • Against Single Operator permits.
  • For Single Operator Permits.
  • For more medallions to the list.
  • Against medallions to the list.
  • For the sale of all medallions.
  • For the end of medallion sales.
  • For the end of the list.
  • Against the Driver's Fund.
  • etc ad infinitum 
We are taxi drivers. Having our own opinions is in our DNA - and thank God for it.

Unified Themes

John Han summed up the feelings of many protestors when he said that the rear-seat terminals should be taken out and that the MTA should try to negotiate credit card fees down to 3%.

Aside from the other usual complaints (electronic waybills, etc) drivers were critical of what they took to be highhanded methods on the part of the MTA.

SFCDA President and TAC councilor Barry Korengold said that the board should not have cancelled all taxi items on the agenda because the meter increase doesn't have to be tied to additional cabs or service improvements. He also said that it bothered him that every improvement involved making money for the MTA. If they were really interested in service improvement, he wanted to know,  "why aren't they considering OTA?"

Support for Open Taxi Access was also mention by a few more drivers.

Some drivers criticized the MTA board for changing the proposals that we had worked out at the Town Hall meetings. A sentiment that I can only second. If they intend to plug in their own formulas anyway, why are they wasting our time?

Soon to depart Executive Director Nat Ford also took his lumps from the drivers. Some criticized him for they way he's treated the taxi industry. Others, to put it mildly, disliked the idea of his walking off with over $400,000 as a departing gift. My complaint against him is that he demoted Taxi Services from a division to a sub-division of the MTA, thus making it difficult for the Deputy Director to deal on our behalf with other city agenices like the police.

The former Night Cabbie Emil Lawrence, who hates Ford, came by for one last semi-sane rant against the Executive Director;  thus giving him a small taste of what his Deputy Director has been getting lately from Tariq Mehmood.

A Hayashi Love Fest

The "Strike" that Mehmood had intended to be the coup de grĂ¢ce to Deputy Director Chris Hayashi's career instead turned into what Hayashi later jokingly called a "love fest." And, compared to the abuse that she's put up with for the last few months, it was.

Taxi driver Murai (Photo, left), who is strongly against 5% credit card fees and hates back-seat terminals, told the MTA board that she missed the good old days when Republicans and Democrats would argue over policy and then go out and drink with each other later. She then spoke strongly against the personal attacks that Tariq Mehmood and his followers had been making against Hayashi.

Brad Newsham, a strong supporter of the "Strike" who wants to limit the taxi "income streams" of the MTA, praised Hayashi highly at the end of his speech.

Others who spoke strongly in favor of the Deputy Director included medallion holder Norma Greer, driver Bill Mounsey, Burmese driver David Kahn, Barry Korengold and myself.

Although they didn't include her in their speeches, both Mark Gruberg and Rua Graffis of the UTW told me and others at the protest that they strongly backed Chris Hayashi and very much wanted her to continue as the head of Taxi Services.

Shortly after people starting speaking in favor of the Deputy Director, Tariq (showing his usual respect for human rights and freedom of speech) brought a gang of his followers into the room to jeer and boo Hayashi supporters along with anyone else who expressed a thought contradicting the dogma of the "powerful and great" Mehmood.

Both Brad Newsham and Mark Gruberg (who had also backed the "Strike") were verbally hassled at the rally by Tariq disciples for favoring Hayashi. The loudest boos, however, were reserved for Burmese driver Tone Lee (an ally of Mehmood's?) when he spoke in favor of Single Operator Permits.

Final Notes

The protest and/or the public comments did have some positive effects.

SFMTA Board President Tom Nolan asked Hayashi to see if the credit card fees could be lowered to 3%. He also said that it was time for the Board to take another look at Open Taxi Access.

Murai and I spoke to the Deputy Director for a few minutes after the meeting and she said that she has been studying credit card charges and thinks that it might be possible to negotiate lower rates - especially with the MTA Board behind her.

If my daily attack comment from a Mehmood acolyte is to be believed, however, it appears that Tariq is already planning another "Strike" no matter what anyone does or does not do for the drivers.

Some Photographs

Mark Gruberg and Bud Hazelkorn
listening to Dean Clark

David Kahn of 
The Burmese Cab Drivers Association and
Taxi Advisory Councilor.

Who says taxi driving isn't glamorous?
Ivone who drives for Yellow  
and is studying photography.


  1. I like your website ed though don't always agree with you, I am not following threads but as for me I post anonymous cause I don"t want to risk my job, if I had a medallion like you I would probably not post anonymous but use my name... PS i am non of the people in this thread just saying it is easier to be bold when you have medallion it gives you economic leverage with the cab companies cause it has value to them..

  2. Brad is an intelligent person and helpfull to cabbies and industry all the time.

  3. Hi Ed, nice photos. Bud, I like you and everything but in my opinion, you are WAY OFF on saying 5% fees are a minor issue. 5% fees and rear seat PIMs are two of the three main issues, of which no drivers at Green Cab are affected by. Good for Green Cab. No offense personally, but you and Ed, who are both at Green Cab, have down played the impacts of 5% fees and rear seat PIMs.

    John Han

  4. Nice job, Ed, as always. I like your easy writing style and your attempts to stay fair and balanced [except of course when you say nasty things about me... ;-) ]. Tariq's "anonymous" supporter is correct -- without Tariq, exactly none of this would have happened. Even if Tariq hasn't inspired unity on the industry's many issues, he has at least tapped the passion of the larger driver body in ways that I, and others, have hoped to do over the years, but at which we have failed miserably. I hope we can use this moment of passion to throw off the MTA's yoke, to reject and demolish their plan to use the cab industry as a cash cow (imagine the things that the cab industry could have done with the $10.3 million the MTA has taken from us in the past year). And I hope we can find some unity of purpose as we move forward.

    Brad Newsham

  5. Ed, Good, clear-eyed description of the poor organization amongst the rank-and-file. The first half of the comment above is also valuable. Tariq fills the vacuum and is the only person who's been able to get people to show up. While I like the strike idea on GPs, many of the incoherent statements show drivers in a poor light, namely that they don't know what they're talking about. For my money, the lousy two cents of the 5% fee is a minor issue and I hate to see that taking precedence. The greater issue of the MTA using us as cash cows seems more more pressing. Bud
    said BudCab

  6. I disagree with the credit card fees. The proposal is solely by John Han and no one else. As per June 22, UCLA announced the people who pay their fees with credit cards will be charges extra for the transaction fees. We are paying the gate fees to the companies and by the contract, all the equipments to operate a taxi will be supplied by the company. The operation costs is the responsibility of the driver and not the credit card fees. The former taxi commossion approved the $7.5 surcharge per shift for the hybrid vehicles along $1 gate cap increase in 2007. At that time the hybrid vehicles are still new and pricy. Now adays, a decent used Escape costs under $15k and spare parts are getting inexpensive. The surcharge is $15/day and grand total for 3 year period is $16425. That mean the vehicle is paid by the drivers and wgy the companies are still crying out loud that they are not making profit? The ad revenue from the back seat terminal supposed to generate revenue to be able to
    said David K

  7. Johnny Walker sez, What's your hidden agenda putz, I mean Healy

  8. There was no one else but Tariq who did almost everything except that we all joined him and came along to sing national anthem. Everyone was left with no choice but to follow his leadership. It became scary for leaders that if they do not follow they will be left alone. I guess one of the most largest strike in this town is coming soon. The one you have seen it was the preview.

  9. Yes Tariq is a leader but what kind of leader?

    When was the last time you heard of Gandhi having his followers boo and jeer anyone that the Mahatma did not like?

    Ed Healy

  10. David, I agree with you about the Hybrids etc. I even wrote somewhere about the profits the companies make off them.

    But I do not think John Han is only driver out there who thinks that the 3% would be a good compromise. . I believe in the politics of reality and, in the real world, I do not think it is possible to get rid of those fees entirely.

    What Hayashi offered as a quid pro quo was a meter increase WITHOUT a gate increase. This would put you about 20% over what you would lose at 3%. Until the meter increase actually goes into effect, I think we should be concentrate on 1 making sure that it does go into effect 2. without the gate increase.

    As for you Tariq fans .... Benito Mussolini and Mahatma Gandhi were both leaders who could being out a crowd. When was the last time you heard about Gandhi repeatedly attacking a defenseless woman in order to prove to his followers how powerful he was?

    Sorry Brad if I offended you. I can not think of anything I said about you that was Nasty but, if I did, please accept my apologies

    Ed Healy