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.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Taxi Robber Arrested

I'm passing along a note from Green Cab driver Dave Schneider.

We are pleased to announce that an arrest has been made in the recent string of Taxi Cab Robberies.  If you have posted any photos, please take them down. Thank you.

SFMTA | Division of Taxis & Accessible Services
1 South Van Ness Avenue, 7th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94103-5417

Tel:  415.701.4400 | Fax: 415.

Dave, who belongs to the United Taxicab Workers (UTW), deserves special thanks for waging a lonely battle trying to improve communication on robberies between the police and cab drivers. His efforts have included speaking at innumerable Police Commission hearings and SFMTA Board meetings as well as talking to the policemen in charge and Taxi Services. The fact that photos of robbers are being passed around and posted (although not soon enough by me) is due at least partly to Dave's efforts.

Thanks Dave.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

TAC 9-12-11: Or, What Happened to Civility?

Barry Korengold (photo) of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association (SFCDA) had the dual and unenviable task of both chairing the meeting and explaining his proposal for modifying the Pilot Plan called, Limited Driving Requirement. Since John Han has already done a good job of covering Korengold's plan and other aspects of the meeting Taxi TownSF, all that's left to me to do is editorialize.

However, one idea that Han did not emphasize enough was that the reason for the MTA not to sell medallions outright was that "each one deprives a career working cabdriver from obtaining their medallion..." Indeed, the thrust of the proposal is to help the drivers at the top of Waiting List get their "earned" medallions and to keep the List going into the future. Korengold's plan could work, if you wanted it to work, and aspects of it were actually part of the Pilot Plan prior to the final cut.

Therefore, the behavior of TAC's Owners and Managers block toward Korengold's proposal was rude and inappropriate. This ranged from the patronizing sarcasm ("I can see that you've worked very hard on this but ...") of the Medallion Holders Association's (MHA) Carl Macmurdo to the open hostility of Athan Rebelos of Desoto Cab, Dan Hinds of National Cab and John Lazar of Luxor Cab. 

On top of this, Rebelos appears to have borrowed a page from Tariq Mehmood and packed the TAC with a group of eight or ten drivers. 

But, gosh, am I slandering Athan? Of course they could have all spontaneously showed up. The fact that they were all young, all on The List, all worked for Desoto, were all attending their first meeting and all wanted open transferability doesn't necessarily mean a thing. 

They all were also ignorant. One speaker after another said he was in favor of the "Pilot Plan" when what they really wanted was to end the part of the plan that "gives" medallions to drivers on the basis of their position on the Waiting List.

One of them said a couple of amazing things. 

He appeared to be about 40, said that he'd been on the List for 13 years and couldn't see any difference between his situation and that of Councilor Bill Mounsey who's been on the List for 15 years but is 65 years old. They could both buy couldn't they?

The Desoto driver also said that he was number 2004 on the Waiting List but 97 on the Buyer's List. Struck by the disparity of the figures, Korengold tried to find out where the driver got those numbers (which seemed to annoy some people) but he didn't get a satisfactory answer.

At any rate, the driver clearly hadn't thought his position through. If the MTA stops giving away "earned" medallions, the Waiting List and the Buyer's List would become one and the same and he'd have 2003 buyers in front of him. The best outcome for him would be a continuation of things as they are.

The main person in the room actually defending the Pilot Plan was Barry Korengold. He's also one of the few people on the TAC who's interested in doing anything other than feeding his own face. From a personal standpoint, the best outcome for Korengold would be an open auction with no age limit. Instead, he remembers his roots and is trying to do something for people who are in the same situation as he was in a few years ago. Whether you like his ideas or not, he deserved a hell of a lot more respect than he was shown at the TAC meeting Monday.

Some people told me that they thought Korengold shouldn't have chaired a meeting where he was presenting a proposal. He would probably agree but he didn't have a choice. Chris Sweis, the usual chair, couldn't be there. Some people thought that Korengold got a little angry but he was dealing with a lot of hostility and probably did better than I would have under the same circumstances. Some people thought Barry talked too much but he'd been waiting a year to speak and look at who's complaining:

Dan Hinds and Carl Macmurdo who took up three whole meetings forcing a vote on a subject that wasn't even on the agenda. And, Athan Rebelos and John Lazar who voted to make themselves and their children eligible for medallions without having to follow the same rules as a working taxi driver. 

Lazar's sidekick, Charles Rathbone (photo), topped them all by rudely shouting out that Korengold had already spoken 30 times - A ridiculous and asinine accusation since he was both chairing the meeting and explaining his proposal. As Korengold pointed out, Rathbone shouldn't have been speaking at all. It wasn't during public comment and he isn't even on the council - for good reason. The only person Rathbone represents is his master.

But I digress ...

Dan Hinds tried to force a vote on Korengold's proposal but Barry said that he was only trying to open up a discussion. Indeed, I think he's the only member of the TAC to even address the problems of the people on the Waiting List or the Driver's Fund.

The Owners and Managers Block, on the other hand, doesn't see a problem. Hinds and Macmurdo, both of whom got their own medallions by waiting on the List, along with  Lazar and company want to stop the MTA from giving out any more "earned" medallions to working drivers and make everybody buyers.

I ended my first post on the Taxi Advisory Council by writing, 

"Given the make-up of the council, it would behoove drivers on the Waiting List and ordinary drivers to attend. It's a good idea anyway."

I would add a note of urgency. If you guys don't start showing up at the TAC and MTA Board meetings, nobody's going to know you exist.

And, if anybody has any ideas or proposals about the Waiting List, the Driver's Fund, driver retirement, medical insurance or any other subject relating to the Pilot Plan you should send them to Chair Chris Sweis before the next TAC meeting on Monday the 26th.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Ed Reiskin Takes the Reins

Ed Reiskin (pronounced Riskin) made his first appearance as Director of Transportation at the SFMTA Board meeting on Tuesday September 6, 2011.

He seems an affable, competent individual with a good sense of humor. He spoke well of some the projects completed by Transportation and gave awards to a few MTA employees.

During comment on the Director's Report, taxi driver Christopher Fulkerson asked why such awards were never given to cab drivers. To his apparent surprise, Board President Tom Nolan agreed with Fulkerson and said that he had been thinking along the same lines and that the MTA would see about putting out such awards in the near future.

A Push For A Division

Numerous people during Public Comment expressed a desire to see Taxi Services returned to it's former status as a Division with current Deputy Directory Christiane Hayashi as full Director. Among those speaking in favor of this position were drivers Victoria Landsdown, Paul Harting, Brad Newsham, Christopher Fulkerson, Mark Gruberg, Barry Korengold, myself and others.

Cab industry people, who wanted to speak in favor of Hayashi and a Division but couldn't make the meeting, included Ruach Graffis, Hansu Kim, Francios Spiegleman, Athan Rebelos, Dave Schneider and Murai.

 Making a Mountain out of a Mogul

Charles Rathbone of Luxor Cab spoke about a "loophole" (below - colored red) in a clause of the August 2nd resolution to put 87 more cabs on the street which goes like this,

"A single operator can use any model of hybrid, CNG or electric vehicle that is already being used as a San Francisco taxi, with the exception that if a vehicle costs more than $25,000 other fuel choices may be authorized depending on other vehicle performance factors such as passenger capacity, accessibility and/or fuel efficiency."

Charles made the point that most taxis now cost more than $25,000 and thought that this could open the door for "all 1,500 cabs" to once again becoming gas vehicles.

Paul Gillespie, the former head of the Taxi Commission, who is rightly credited with starting the move toward a green taxi fleet was very concerned about the "big loophole" which he saw as potentially undoing all his work. Mark Gruberg also expressed his concern about the issue.

I called up Charles this morning and asked him if he had talked to Deputy Director Hayashi. This seemed like a reasonable question since Hayashi had written the alleged "loophole."

Charles responded with a definitive "no" so strong that he sounded hostile to my query. I then asked him why he thought Hayashi had written the "loophole." He said that he wouldn't say but that I should figure it out for myself.

I'm not good at figuring out my own motives much less somebody else's so I did the unthinkable and actually called Christiane Hayashi to ask her about the resolution. She said:

1. That the exception was for Ramp taxis where there isn't a good low-emission vehicle or vehicles like the Volt that get good gas mileage even though they aren't hybrids.
2. Except for the Ramps, this would only apply to the 50 Single Operator Permits. She said that one such driver wanted a vehicle like the Ford Flex that would carry 6 or 7 people and that such vehicles would be rarely used in any case because they are so expensive.
3.  Hayashi hasn't bought a car lately and thought that almost all taxis sold for less than $25,000.

"I guess I can change the numbers," she told me, "but it'll have to go through the Board again."

Which is Another Reason Why We Need a Division

All that Rathbone, Gillespie or Gruberg had to do was call Hayashi up and she no doubt would have changed the wording of the loophole to anything that was mutually agreeable. She could have presented the change to the MTA Board yesterday and the problem would already be solved.

Instead Gillespie and Rathbone followed the path set down by former Director Nat Ford of going behind Hayshi's back or over her head but never talking to her - the only person who could understand the resolution - directly.

As it is, as I understand it - members of the Board (i.e. Director Heinicke) will talk to Sonali Bose who will talk to Hayashi who will talk to Sonali Bose who will communicate with Reiskin who will communicate with the Board who will communicate with Sonali Bose who will talk to Hayashi who will re-write the resolution and show it to Sonali Bose who will ...

Do you think this is what the Chinese had in mind when they invented Bureaucracy?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tariq - Or Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

Note the irony. Tariq Mehmood, who proclaims himself to be the "powerful and great leader of the drivers" siding with Yellow Cab in trying to remove Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi.

Of course Yellow, Luxor, Town and Checker, not the drivers, would be the major winners of a successful Hayashi coupé.

There are several reasons for this.

  • These cab companies coerce their drivers to tip and Hayashi has made this practice a $5,000 misdemeanor. She recently started busting limos. Enforced tipping and other illegal company activities are also on her hit list.
  • The recent meter increase did not include a gate increase. The companies, especially Luxor, blame Hayashi who drafted the legislation.
  • Hayashi helped create and has promoted Open Taxi Access (OTA) which Luxor and Yellow hate.
  • Yellow and Luxor want 500 taxis to go to them - now. Hayashi doesn't want to put cabs out without public hearings.
  • John Lazar of Luxor wants himself and his two sons to be given medallions without following the rules. Hayashi thinks medallions should only be given to working cab drivers.

I could go on and on but the bottom line is that Yellow and Luxor are used to running the taxicab industry through backdoor politics and Hayashi has created a culture of transparency through her Town Hall Meetings. For the first time, medallion holders and regular taxi drivers (not just the owners) have a say in how their business works.

So, why is Tariq Mehmood, "the driver's advocate," lining himself up with guys like these?

Well, fact is - he's done it before. Awhile back, when Yellow Cab was trying to force their drivers to pay $2,000 or $3,000 in gates a month in advance, Tariq attacked the UTW which was fighting to stop the pre-payments. Mehmood later backed legislation at the Board of Supervisors raising gates and ratifying gate overcharges. This did Yellow a tremendous service.

Why he did this? I can't say.