Saturday, May 26, 2012

Taxi Reform Town Hall Meetings

The Town Hall Meetings on Tuesday May 22nd attracted the usual small gatherings. About twenty people attended the afternoon session and maybe fifteen came in the evening when I showed up.

This has always struck me as strange. Several groups are trying to bring out throngs of drivers for the June 5th MTA Board  meeting (which is important) but you can actually change or modify proposals at a Town Hall meeting - especially if Deputy Director Hayashi is running it.

Indeed, there were a few modifications made in the Taxi Services Recommendations draft.
  • In part (III) Continue Medallion Sales two changes were made (1) Drivers who earn or buy a medallion will have to keep it for at least five years before selling; unless (2) The new medallion holder is 65 or disabled.
  • Under (V) Changes to Leasing Regulations, the wording that would limit "affiliate" leases to 1/3 of the fleet has been struck out. It was felt that "if the standards of regulation were high enough," the affiliates would limit themselves.
  • Perhaps less important, the terms for the Issue of Temporary Color Scheme Permits (IV) (d) would be changed to "Three or Four Years" instead of the "life of the vehicle." (c) It was emphasized by Hayashi that driver surveys regarding their companies would be anonymous and that customer surveys would also be used to rate the cab companies.
Drivers expressed hostility to various recommendations especially: dedicating all 350 Pre-K medallions to the waiting list, issuing temporary permits to the color schemes and, surprisingly, giving up to 100 newly issued medallions to aging drivers Not on the medallion list on the basis of A-Card seniority.

All 350 Pre-K's to the Waiting List.

Most the arguments about this item came from members of the Medallion Holder's Association (MHA). I didn't attend the afternoon session where they spoke but I'm familiar with their ideas. They think that Pre-K's should be able to sell because:
  1. They paid for their medallions prior to Prop-K.
  2. All medallion holders should be treated the same. Not to do so would be discrimination.
  3. Most of the aging Pre-K's have already sold their medallions so it would take ten or twelve years for the current medallions to go to the Waiting List.
  4. They are the people who built up the taxicab business, it would therefore be unconscionable not to let them sell.
Issue of Temporary Color Scheme Permits.

This is by far the least popular of the proposals. I haven't run a poll but a the majority of drivers that I've talked to are against this measure. Although softly focused in my photo, cab driver and dispatcher Ben (whose last name I didn't catch) clearly summarized the reasons for opposition:

1. The taxi companies already make plenty of money.
2. The companies are crooked
3. Medallions should go to working drivers.
4. Once the companies start getting medallions, they will never stop.
5. The money the MTA makes from the leasing might influence them to take away medallions and turn more cabs into leased taxis.

Deputy Director Hayashi defended the plan, saying that:
  • It would help give companies financial relief.
  • By setting high standards for the distribution of the permits, it would give the MTA greater control over the companies.
  • It would inspire companies to improve their performance.
  • It would allow non-medallion holding gate & gas drivers to drive Friday and Saturday night as well as other primo shifts.
  • The permits would be temporary and could be taken back if they didn't work or the economy took a nose dive.

Driver and TAC member Tone Lee thought that the MTA should either put out more Single Operator Permits or lease the cabs directly to the drivers.

Hayashi said that both Lee's ideas were future possibilities but the current plan would give Taxi Services the chance to compare the Leased Permits and the Single Operator Permits with each other to judge their effectiveness. One or both might be eliminated or expanded in the future.

Issuing up to One Hundred Medallions by A-card Seniority to Drivers Not on the Waiting List.

Both Ben and Naim Malik, who are on the Waiting List, were vehemently hostile to this idea. Ben wanted to know why drivers who didn't take the trouble to put their names on the List should deserve a medallion.

"Why didn't they put their names on the list?" He asked.

Rua Graffis (photo) responded by saying that she didn't put her name on the list because there was no cab company she wanted to join. Meaning, I think, that she didn't want to make money from cheating cab drivers like medallion holders do at most companies. But, now there is Green Cab which doesn't accept tips or charge credit card fees thus living up to her high standards.

Director Hayashi then told a story that I believe she got from TAC member Athan Rebelos.

"A man finds an old lamp, rubs it and a genie pops out saying, 'you can have anything you want but your enemy will get twice as much.'"

"The man then takes a pencil and puts out one of his eyes."

Rua Graffis was the the only one who got the joke - at least she's the only one who laughed - so let me spell it out for those of you who might not have "gotten it."

If Ben, who is thirty-one years old, can't sympathize with a few seventy year-olds who drove cab for thirty or forty years but failed to sign a piece of paper, how can he expect anyone to care about him?

Next: My take on the recommendations.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Jeanette Du Day

Jeanette Du, Professor of the Foreign Language Department at City College of San Francisco, received an official proclamation declaring "Jeanette Du Day" on Wednesday May 16, 2012.  President David Chiu delivered this award for her on behalf of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  This is the highest award that can be given to a citizen of San Francisco.
Professor Du is the person responsible for opening my eyes and mind to the beauties of Chinese language, literature, art, cuisine, music and culture. Without her influence and the curiosity that her teaching awoke in me, I doubt that I would ever have travelled to China.
“Jeanette Du Day” was proclaimed in recognition for Professor Du’s 27 years of tenacious dedication in promoting diverse cross culture projects which include compiling a series of bilingual educational teaching materials in Multimedia; producing East Meets West theatrical events and performing in the Bay Area; creating language and music CDs and DVDs; being chosen for the Dictionary of Chinese Musicians as one of the top overseas Chinese musicians and making influential short films.  Moreover her many years of pioneer multimedia teaching at colleges, universities and companies in San Francisco and other projects has enlightened many thousands of students, audiences and readers illuminating them to  to Chinese language, culture, history, music, art and films.
Many students and friends of Professor Du attended the ceremony.  One of her students, Mr. Richard Fabian, graduated from Yale University in Chinese Study with summa cum laude and honors with highest distinction, is a well-known American Art collector in Chinese Paintings and calligraphers.  Another one, Ms. Faye Lee is one of the most reputable attorneys in the San Francisco Bay Area. 
Perhaps the least distinguished of her students is me. But this highlights one of Professor Du’s other fine qualities - her humanity. Despite her high education, multiple talents and amazing accomplishments, she treats all people as her equals and works to bring the best from all her students. She gave me my first Mandarin lesson as a customer in my taxicab. She deserves a Nobel Prize for teaching this tone deaf “lao wai” how to speak her marvelous, musical language correctly. 
After the ceremony, people went to a nearby restaurant to celebrate “Jeanette Du Day”.

Selections from her books, CD's & DVD's can be found at her website,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Staff Recommendations Well Received at TAC

Deputy Director of Taxi Services, Christiane Hayashi, presented her recommendations for medallion reform yesterday at the Taxi Advisory Council.

The plan (See May 13, 2012 post) carried forward Hayashi's signature idea from the Pilot Plan of giving something to all the various interested parties in the taxicab business without giving too much to anyone. In short, a gravity defying balancing act.

The proposal was surprising well received and praised by people as different as Barry Korengold of the SFCDA, Carl Macmurdo of the MHA, Councilor Tone Lee, Desoto Cab owner Hansu Kim and myself.  Macmurdo and Kim called it brilliant as did I.

Of course almost everyone disliked some item or other of the proposition. The main bones of contention were:

Maintaining the Driving Requirement for Medallion Holders.

Coucilors Barry Korengold, John Lazar of Luxor Cab and Carl Macmurdo all thought that medallion holders should have the requirement of driving 800 hours or 156 half-shifts lowered or eliminated for older drivers. Korengold wanted medallion holders be given the choice of either selling their medallions or retiring with them and having the medallions go back to The List after their deaths.

Hansu Kim, on the other hand, thought that the requirements should be maintained so that medallions would become available more quickly for younger drivers.

The Driver's Fund.

Macmurdo and Lazar thought that the Driver's Fund should become an Industry Fund." Lazar wanted the fund to be used to help wannabe medallion buyers make their down payments.

I spoke in favor of using the fund for non-medallion holding drivers, pointing out that three-quarters of cab drivers will never own a medallion and have no benefits or retirement. The fund therefore should be used for these drivers as was originally intended by the people who created the Pilot Plan.

I ran out of time so I was unable to suggest that, if Councilor Lazar wanted to have an industry fund, he could pool the money that he and his fellow taxi company owners have grabbed by way of "voluntary" tips from their drivers. This could well be enough for the entire industry to retire on. Conversely, the money could be used to pay off the MTA's debt so they wouldn't take so much money from the rest of us.

Dedicate All 350 Pre-K Medallions to the Waiting List.

Councilors Macmurdo and Dan Hinds of National Cab said that it was unfair to not to allow the Pre-K medallion holders to sell. Hinds thought that we should have "compassion" for the Pre-K's who had worked so hard to develop this industry.

Former Yellow Driver Art Lembke came up from his retirement in Texas to argue against the item and with Barry Korengold who backed the measure. The pair engaged in what some might call "lively repartee" and others might describe as "insane caterwauling." Staring at Korengold, Lembke called the people who didn't want Pre-K holders to be able to sell "vindictive."

Well ... I don't think I'm vindictive but I think it's more "fair" and "compassionate" to give these medallions to the working drivers who have been on the Waiting List for fifteen or twenty years and would have nothing to retire on without a medallion.

I'd also like to point out that about 95 of those 350 are corporate medallions and many Pre-K owners, like Art Lembke, hold at least two medallions. So, what we are really talking about is around 150 people, all of whom will earn at least $2,500 from each of their medallions every month for the rest of their lives.

The Issuance of Temporary Permits to Select Companies.

I had expected much hostility toward this measure but, aside one outraged exception, the criticism stayed on point.

Many people accepted the provision because it was limited to 5% of the fleet but, along with Carl Macmurdo, feared that it could lead to a "slippery slope" of more and more medallions going to companies instead of drivers.

Many people liked the idea that the permits would be temporary and could be rescinded if necessary but others wondered whether or not this would work out in practice.

Athan Rebelos, who has long pushed for corporate medallions, thought that this limited release would give people a chance to see if his plan would work.

I suggested that the MTA should return half of leasing income from these permits back to the taxi industry to help improve service and build up the driving fund.

Is Cluelessness really that blissful?

The outraged exception was Brad Newsham (Photo) who likes to carry protest signs and give stirring speeches at meetings which he leaves before he has a chance to find out what's really going on.

Newsham's always entertaining but he outdid himself at TAC when he read a mock letter of resignation that supposedly came from Deputy Director Hayashi.

The text was confused and confusing but apparently Brad thinks that cab drivers would be better off if Hayashi defied MTA Director Malcom Heinicke's orders and quit her job rather than lease out permits to the companies  ... or some such. Highly entertaining to those of us who've taken the trouble to understand a little of the MTA's byzantine politics. No doubt it will prove so to Heinicke as well.

Maybe Brad thinks on a deeper level than the rest of us, but, I find it hard to understand how drivers on the Waiting List (who Newsham supposedly supports) would be better off if the person most responsible for the continued existence of that list leaves the field.

Or, maybe Newsham is alphabetically challenged and merely attacked the wrong "H." If Brad wants to take cheap-shots at a person, Heinicke would be a more appropriate target. He's the one who wants to ripoff cab drivers and gut the taxi industry for more MTA funding.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Taxi Services Staff Recommendations

The MTA Staff has released a draft of their recommendations in advance of the Monday, May 14th TAC meeting. The draft is available on the MTA website and ordinarily I would present the text without comment.

However, an earlier draft of recommendations released by Staff "for discussion" has led to all sorts of wild speculations, inaccuracies and distortions presented as fact. This in turn has upset a lot of drivers who have been falsely told that they'll either lose their shifts or their chances to earn a medallion.

Therefore, I'm going to highlight a few of the main points (with commentary) before listing the entire document.

  • Qualified applicants will remain on the list.
  • MTA staff has removed people from the list who don't have A-Cards or driving permits, already hold medallions or don't respond to mail, etc.
  • This action has reduced the size of The List from 2,800 to 1,400.
  • The plan is to give all of the eligible 1,400 drivers earned medallions as their number comes up.
  • All remaining 350 Pre-K medallions will go to the Waiting List as they are returned to the MTA.
  • Half of all new medallions will go to the Waiting List. (See the chart near the bottom of the draft.)
  • Post-K medallion holders will be able to sell their medallions at any age.
  • But Affiliates will be reduced to a maximum of one-third of the fleet. (Currently 500 cabs.)
  • Some long term leases will be gradually converted to gates & gas so that neither lessees nor their drivers will be hurt by the conversion.
  • These permits WILL NOT be taken from medallion holders or in any way reduce the number of medallions available for drivers.
  • They will come from a percentage of new issues only (See chart).
  • They will be temporary. 
Of course there is much more to the plan and this isn't the final version. Some of it will also probably be changed or modified during Taxi Advisory or Town Hall meetings.

I'm not giving my opinions on the ideas at the moment. I'm simply interested in presenting the plan as it is. There have been enough opinions already expressed without facts. Erroneous and emotionally loaded conjectures don't do service to anybody.

To see the actual draft click below.