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.)

Baker, who used to be a San Francisco cab driver, argued that:

  • While he stopped for people that flagged him down, he never asked them for money.
  • He only stopped to tell them that he couldn't pick them up.
  • He appeared to think that it was legal if people gave him money to take them places without his asking for it.
  • The man going to Palo Alto offered him money without his asking for it.
  • He was on Ceasar Chavez because he lived in the Presidio and was gassing up at 14th & Mission streets prior to catching the freeway to work in San Leandro.
The MTA's case was slightly weakened by the fact that the other arresting officer, Charles Castillo, no longer works for the MTA and thus was not able to testify.

However, Mr. Baker did such a good job of convicting himself, Harris didn't need much help. As Baker left the courtroom, Harris told him that they could work could work out an arrangement of some kind.

Soltane argued that:
  • He never took money for rides.
  • He often gave his friends and other people rides for free.
  • He worked as a pizza delivery person and used his cab/car for the deliveries but did not put a pizza delivery sign on his cab/car.
  • He didn't know whether his meter worked or not because he never used it.
  • He never turned on the meter for Castillo's trip.
  • He couldn't afford to remove the meter or the top light or paint his car because it would be too expensive at $150.
  • He hadn't seen Charles Castillo until Soltane had already started his car and Castillo knocked on his window to beg for a ride.
  • Castillo told him that it was an emergeny so Soltane took him for nothing. Besides, Soltane was going for gas at Pine and Van Ness and the trip was allegedly on the way.

Harris called me as a witness. This made Hearing Officer Epstein rather uncomfortable which made me uncomfortable. Despite all my public speaking, I wasn't really a great witness. I forgot to say that Investigator Castillo had told me that Soltane's meter started at only $3.00 but was already over $4.50 after less than 3 blocks.

I did succeed in contradicting Soltane's claim that he hadn't seen Castillo until he knocked on the window. In fact, he and Castillo exchanged words. Then, Soltane unlocked the doors and the two of them stepped into the cab at about the same time. Epstein asked Sotane if he'd seen me. When the defendant claimed that he hadn't, I missed the opportunity to state that the reason Soltane hadn't seen me was that he was talking to Castillo. (Soltane is the man coming up behind Castillo in the photo.)

Mike Harris repeatedly asked Soltane if he only gave people rides in his cab/car for free and Soltane kept repeating that that this was the case. Harris asked the question so often that I was beginning to think that he'd run out of ideas. Then, Harris pulled out three e-mails from drivers stating that they'd seen Day Cab carrying customers, two of which said that they'd seen the fake taxi pick up flags. All three incidents occurred all after Soltane was first cited.

I had to leave early but Eric wrote me,

"Henry (Epstein) called a side-bar with Soltane and Michael (Harris) and basically told Soltane that things don’t look good for him and that maybe he should try to settle with SFMTA. We are not settling so he will have a decision within 10 days ...Henry did tell Soltane that, minimally, he will have to strip his car of the cab garb."

The fine for an illegal pick up is $5,000.

Illegal Cab & Limo Update.

Investigator Eric Richholt (photo - middle) showed up a recent Town Hall meeting to update us on Taxi Services' efforts against illegal taxis and limos.

Richholt said:

  • 11 illegal taxis have now been cited for $5,000.
  • 3 of the drivers of these fake cabs have been given administrative hearings.
  • All 3 have been "held to answer" (i.e. found guilty).
  • 64 limo & towncars have been given $90 white zone citations.
  • The MTA will now be able to give limos & towncars $5,000 administrative citations for illegally picking up flags.
Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi said that problems remain that Taxi Services is trying to correct.
  • The major problem is that they need more investigators. Eric is the only one at the moment who is chasing down illegal vehicles and his time is split among other duties.
  • Hayashi is in the process of hiring which - due to the byzantine nature of the MTA - takes time. Eventually she wants a team of six devoted to the task.
  • The hearing officer has allowed one driver to pay off his citation with time payments. Hayashi doesn't think that this is enough of a deterrent and wants to change the rules so that such payments are not allowed.
  • Taxi Services is asking the PUC to stop issuing limousine permits. At the moment, there is no limitation on the number of limos and towncars that can operate in San Francisco.
  • Hayashi is drafting legislation to make driving non-authorized vehicles with cab markings illegal and subject to $5,000 fines regardless of whether they pick up or not.
She also said that there is talk of forming a city task force to fight illegal taxis and limos as well as other forms of corruption. The task force would include the City Attorney's office, the PUC, the Police Department and Taxi Services.


  1. Unfortunately, not all renting casework can fulfil that affiance abnormally with the accretion amount of limo casework lining up for competition.

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  2. Wow, does anyone understand the first comment????

  3. I saw this guy (Day Cab) on Van Ness yesterday afternoon with a passenger in the rear seat. I pulled next to him and told him to roll down the passenger’s window. I asked the passenger where he was picked up and he told me, “24th and Mission”. I told Soltaine that he’d be getting another $5000 citation mailed to him. His facial expression was PRICELESS!

    Eric Richholt
    Taxi Services
    (415) 701-5497