Thursday, June 28, 2012

Best PracticesTaxi Study by Hara & Associates

Yesterday I met with Dr. Dan Hara (photo) and his associate Penina Coppersmith to discuss ways to improve the taxicab business in San Francisco. There is a listing of the potential interview topics that they are using at the end of this post.

I don't know how many people they intend to talk to or how the interviewees were chosen but I think they want as a wide a spectrum of the industry as possible. Non-medallion holder driver and TAC member, Tone Lee, was interviewed just before me.

 Dr. Hara said that they also intended to run their own studies. They have done projects like this in fourteen cites over the last twenty years. Dr. Hara emphasized that their report would suggest the best practices from the standpoint of service.

I brought out my old saw about how company corruption has been bringing down the business by rewarding the most corrupt drivers and companies instead of the best; and putting potentially unqualified and dangerous drivers on the street.

I also came out in favor of changing from a gate & gas to a split meter system as a way to drastically improve both radio service and company quality. This would force companies to actually engage in the business of picking up cab customers instead of leasing out vehicles.

I have written about this before more than once. But, my previous efforts to bring an end to leasing did little except label me as a crank. However, this idea should be getting more traction since the most successful dispatching company in San Francisco, Uber LIMO, uses a split meter instead of a leasing model.

Other things I favored:
  1. Open Taxi Access or linking all the dispatchings systems in the city together onto one grid. 
  2. Better driver training.
  3. More regulators for enforcement against illegal limos and illegal taxi company practices.
  4. Issuing more Single Operator Permits instead of full time cabs.
Dr. Hara said that they should have the study finished sometime in September.

To see the Best Practices Topics click below.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The City vs Cab Drivers? A Micro History 1.

The issue in 1984 was putting more taxis on the street for the Democratic convention. However, as long as she was at it, then Major Dianne Feinstein decided to reform the cab business as well.

The problem was addressed by the Police Commission which regulated cabs at the time. They assigned a young police lieutenant (whose name I forget) to do a thorough study of the taxi industry including in-depth interviews with cab drivers.

What I don't forget is the interview. It turned out that instead of talking to drivers individually, the L.T. chose to meet a group of us in a room. I was a newbie but the rest of the drivers had been around many a block. We totalled about 140 years of cab driving experience. We were confident that we could give the man many insights into how the taxi business really worked and how to improve it.

The L.T. popped suddenly into the room and started to tell us what would be in his report without asking us one single question. He informed us that during his research at SFO he'd spend over two hours observing the situation during a Tuesday afternoon in April.

I raised my hand and politely suggested that he had a few details wrong.

"Well," he interrupted shouting, "I disagree! And, if it comes to a fight, the cops'll beat the cabbies!"

I kid you not. That was the in-depth interview.

Surprisingly, the report agreed exactly with Feinstein's analysis of the situation: namely that cab drivers were poor in quality but there should be more of them. The L.T. was praised by the Police Commission and promoted to Commander of the Taraval Police Station a few years later. Last I heard he was doing well with a private law practice.

His report had no lasting effects what-so-ever on the taxi business but it leaves me with an observation and a question.

Cab drivers were considered neither part of the public nor the working class.

The situation was officially framed by the press as Cab Driver Income vs Public Good but you didn't have to read too far between the lines to see that what they actually meant was Greedy Cabbies vs Us.

For me, the most startling aspect of the farce (I was a newbie remember) was that a gaggle of liberal democratic politicians didn't see us as workers. They treated almost us like a criminal class. Or, as Chris Hayashi's predecessor Heidi Machen once put it, cab drivers were "either criminals or soon would be."

 In 1984, the city actually set up a cab stand in the Sunset and assigned a policeman to make sure that a cab driver stayed on the stand to take radio calls.

This conception of cab drivers as future-cons was brought home to me a few years later when "left-wing liberal" Supervisor Carol Ruth Silver herded a bunch of us (apparently chosen at random) into the Board of Supervisor's chamber. I'm not sure why we were there but these were some of the best and most experienced cab drivers that I knew. I think Silver intended to include "Taxicab Reform" in her re-election package.

She shouted and snarled at us like a Drill Sergeant, had us line up standing at attention and demanded that we show her our identification. When I started to ask her why we were there, she screamed at me to, "Shut Up!"

She took our A-cards and IDs into another room - apparently to photocopy them. When she returned she told us that we'd better shape up by the next year.

"I wouldn't worry about that," I told her.

"Why not?" she demanded, incredulous at my temerity in speaking to her.

"Because we're going to vote you out of office!" I said ... well ...  I think I lost it and yelled.

In any case, it shut her up. She walked out of the room staring at me with hostility and confusion. It might never before have occurred to her that we were capable of reading a ballot much less voting.

She did lose the election but there probably were issues other than my vengeance involved.

What I take from this incident is the image of a woman who had been jailed in 1961 for fighting for the rights of Afro-Americans in the segregated South talking to us exactly like a bigot might have talked to a "N......" in the South of that same period.

Why didn't the L.T. actually interview us?

I mean,  he didn't make that decision by himself. Not this guy. His supervisors, the Police Commission, maybe Feinstein herself dictated his behavior. But why?

They'd already gone to considerable expense, they already had the cab drivers available, why not interview us? Why not try to understand the business? Why not have a real reform? Feinstein could've taken credit for it. Why not do it?

I've been pondering this question for a long time and the only answer I can come up with is that Feinstein thought that her ideas about the taxi business were THE TRUTH.

Another way of putting it, would be to say that Feinstein, and the other city officials, thought that cab drivers were either too stupid to understand their own business or that the business was so simple that any "educated person" could understand it, probably both.

This conception of "cabbies" as a semi-literate, future-criminal class would dominate city politics for the next twenty years.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CPR for TAC? But Not This Month. Town Hall Meeting.

It's hard to keep upon this issue.

Apparently TAC Chair Chris Sweis doesn't want the Taxi Advisory Council to meet more than once a month and there is also a problem with knowing if the council could muster a quorum for June 25th. Thus there will not be another meeting held until July.

However, for you conclave groupies, there will be Town Hall Meetings on Tuesday, June 26th. The subject will a discussion of Color Scheme Standards and possibly other things. The times are usually 1 to 5 and 5 to 9.

Since I don't have anything better to do I'll inform you if the world turns again.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Premature Report of TAC's Demise?

I would like to apologize to MTA Board Secretary Roberta Boomer for passing on rumors instead of checking with her first. In my last post I wrote,

"Roberta Boomer, the Board's secretary, has refused to even return Sweis's calls, much less speak to him."

MS Boomer called and told me yesterday that she has never refused to return his calls.

Chris Sweis called me later in the day and told me that there had been a misunderstanding. He said he had talked to MS boomer three or four times in the past about putting the Taxi Advisory Council's recommendations on the agenda.

The first of these (I might add) was back when former Executive Director of the MTA, Nat Ford, was still polishing his resume. Rumor has it that Director Ford expressed a total lack of interest in hearing such a report.  Mr. Sweis has been trying to put TAC's reports on the Agenda ever since - without success.

Sweis said that his report was supposed to have been on the agenda for the June 5th MTA Board meeting but, when Medallion Reform was taken off that agenda, Director Ed Reiskin gave Sweis the choice of presenting the report June 5th or at the August 21st meeting. Sweis choose the later.

When I asked him if the report would be a separate agenda item, Sweis said that he wasn't certain.

Better late than never I suppose ... but TAC reports should have been regularly on the Board's agendas all along just like the reports of the Citizens' Advisory Council. However, it was wrong to blame Ms. Boomer for this situation. If the MTA Board really wanted to listen to the TAC, they would have found a way to do so.

Sweis, who didn't attend the last TAC meeting, added that he thought that the recent vote to end the TAC was inappropriate because there already had been a previous vote to continue the Taxi Advisory Council in some form or other.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

TAC Votes to Commit Hari Kari.

On June 11, 2012, the Taxi Advisory Council voted by 5 to 4 to disband when the Pilot Program officially ends - possibly in August.

Only ten of the fourteen councilors showed up to discuss the future of the TAC on Monday which speaks to the spirit of ennui that has taken over the meetings. The four no-shows - John Han, David Khan, William Mounsey and Chair Chris Sweis - may have been voting with their feet.

Bill Minikel (photo), who once was the fifteenth member, quit some time ago.

The vote would have been 6 to 4 against continuing but Councilor John Lazar of Luxor Cab resigned prior to the vote after a lengthy and impassioned rant.

The Taxi Advisory Council was set up specifically to study the Pilot Plan and make recommendations for permanent medallion reform. The TAC is an advisory council - meaning that it can recommend but, not make, legislation.

 The Council has spent almost two years (and hundreds of hours) discussing various aspects of the plan along with other taxi matters. Chair Chris Sweis spent a great deal of time writing up an excellent Taxi Advisory Report that he presented to the TAC in March.

Then ...  nothing happened.

The report has never been put on the MTA Board's agenda despite Sweis's repeated attempts to do so. Roberta Boomer, the Board's secretary, has refused to even return Sweis's calls, much less speak to him. Sweis has also talked to the Director of Transportation, Ed Reiskin (photo), to no apparent avail.

Mr. Lazar (photo), along with other council members, was especially angered by the Board's ignoring of the TAC's recommendations concerning money taken from the taxi industry by the MTA, specifically the:

"Recommendation that all revenues generated from the taxicab industry should be re-invested in the taxicab industry. Adopted Unanimously by a 14 - 0 vote.

In his report Sweis (photo below) wrote,

"There is consensus among all industry members that revenue generated from the industry should be reduced and that the SFMTA should re-invest these revenues in the industry."

This was also reflected in other TAC votes:

  • Recommendation to reduce the SFMTA re-sale transaction fee to 5%. Adopted 13:1
  • Recommendation to restructure the transaction fee so that 10% goes to the SFMTA and 10% goes to the driver fund. Adopted 8:6
  • Recommendation that the SFMTA not have a financial interest in medallion sales. Adopted 9:5
The TAC Report also made recommendations on Medallion Sales, Medallion Distribution and Purchase, Industry Functions and the Drivers Fund.

Councils Dan Hinds, Richard Hybels, Timothy Lapp, Carl Macmurdo and Athan Rebelos voted for the TAC's demise. Rua Graffis, Tara Houseman, Vice Chair Barry Korengold and Tone Lee voted to keep the TAC. 

Those who didn't like the TAC thought it was a complete waste of time. Those who liked it thought it was good for different groups in the industry to get together and talk - even if it didn't lead to anything. "When people talk," said Lee (photo), "there is no war."

Korengold (right ) thought that the TAC should exist in some form. "It's good for cab drivers to follow rules," he says. Rebelos (left), on the other hand, thought that Town Hall Meetings have proven more productive.

Mike Harris of the MTA staff said that the TAC's vote was only advisory so they couldn't even officially disband until the Pilot Plan came to an end. Korengold than set up the next meeting for June 25th. Rebelos wanted to know if they could vote on where the five TAC nay sayers should go on the 25th.

Be that as it may, the councilors along with many member of the public, spent a great deal of time, energy and thought in helping to put the the Taxi Advisory Report together.  It deserves to be officially heard and vetted by SFMTA Board. And, it should be heard before the Taxi Services Staff makes its recommendation for medallion reform on August 21, 2012. 

 If the Board continues to stonewall the report, either Chris Sweis or Vice Chair Barry Korengold might consider reading it into the record during Public Comment at the next Board meetings.

Next: My take on TAC.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How Not to Do Politics.

 As I was walking by the small honk-a-thon prior to last Tuesday's MTA Board meeting Tariq Mehmood approached me with a smile. This surprised me. He usually waves his arms at me and shouts things like:

"Don't talk to me!" or "Leave! You don't belong here! You are not a driver!" or "Don't you laugh at me!"

He's been acting thus ever since I wrote this post about him. Naturally, I assumed his sudden conviviality stemmed from a desire to publicize some scheme or other in my blog. This proved to be the case.

Mehmood proudly pointed to the line of cabs circling City Hall and told me that he was planning a major strike.

"You mean you're not going to pick people up?" I asked. "Uber will be happy to hear it."

"This time we'll shut the city down!"  He said with a wide-eyed grin.

"Then maybe they'll charge double."

How Not to win the Hearts and Minds of the People.

Of course it would be impossible to seal off a city with so many ways in and out. (Is he going to block off Palmetto Ave, Brotherhood Way, Alemany Blvd, Brunswick St, etc?). What would be possible would be to shut down the bridges. This has been done before and the results of such an action would follow a predictable path.

1. The cabs would block the streets for a couple of hours.

2. Since no city can tolerate such behavior, the police would eventually tow the offending vehicles and arrest and fine or discipline the drivers.

3. The traffic would soon return to flowing (or not) as it had before.

The only lasting effect would be to alienate the public even more than those cab drivers who turn down credit cards. There is nothing that people hate more than being punished for something they didn't do. It would turn people, who might be sympathetic, against the cab driver's cause.

Think of what Critical Mass has done to win love for the Bicycle Coalition.

In short, blocking traffic would be monumentally stupid, meaning that Tariq will probably do it.

What cause?

And there would the problem of explaining why Mehmood and his minions would deliberately cause massive gridlock.

One certainly couldn't tell from the above protest. As usual Tariq substituted personal attacks for reason. Why should Hayashi, Heinicke and Ed Lee resign? (Ed Lee????) We don't know. A guy with a bullhorn kept kept shouting that "we" were, "against electronic waybills, backseat terminals ..." But would this win over the hears and minds of a public that's been stuck on the Bay Bridge for two hours?

 The gentleman in the photo below didn't know if he was against the noise or not.

"It depends what the honking is about?" He said.

"Basically, they're underpaid and don't have benefits," I told him. "It's not fair."

"I can see that," he said. "On the other hand, whoever said that life should be fair?"

"Wasn't that Spinoza?"

"Maybe ... Spinoza's complicated."

A Brilliant Protest: But How Not to Get a Message Across.

I liked this one. In fact, I wish I'd thought of it. I've got to hand it to organizer Brad Newsham.  He's quite the showman and he paid for the photographer out of his own pocket. This stunt did indeed get the attention of the press. The soundbites were there for the taking. But what were they?

An online paper The San Francisco Appeal quoted Newsham as saying that the MTA has been "abusing" taxi drivers, who he says are losing business to the private car service Uber.

"We've got an absolutely demoralized workforce that's being looted," he said.

Will Reisman of the San Francisco Examiner paraphrased Mark Gruberg of the United Taxicab Workers as saying,

"Drivers are upset about onerous credit card fees ..." and "... government overregulation ..."

Gruberg also pointed out that "the SFMTA gets a 15% cut" of $250,000 taxi medallion sales and "... hasn't invested any of that money back into the industry."

Catherin Al_Meten of SF Grandparenting Examiner described signs as reading, "We won't be your cash cow" and "Fire Mirakarimi."

There are no shortage of messages. In fact, there are too many. Some are ridiculous (Mirakarimi????) and others cancel each other out. Mark does't like "overregulation" but Brad wants to regulate Uber out of business. And, what are we to do about "abused" and "demoralized" cab drivers? Do we need group therapy?

Sorry. But there is no center in any of this, no concrete plan of action with which the non-cab driving public can identify. Given this potpourri of soundbites, the media focused on what most disturbs them.

Flikr descibed it as a "Protest of proposed credit card charges for "cabbies.'"

KRON 4 News asked on facebook, "Do you think 'cabbies' should have to pay credit card charges?" The count was tied at 4-4 at last ... count.

Reisman devoted most of his article to discussing credit card processing fees and the MTA's plan to cap them at 3.5% - about which Gruberg continues to harp, despite the fact that not taking credit cards is the one act for which the public most hates taxi drivers. Reisman writes,

"While the drivers and companies bicker about credit card fees, taxi passengers will continue to feel the impact of the argument. Some drivers, angry about absorbing the extra costs, are still refusing to pick up passengers who don’t have cash."

The journalist concluded with a story about a cab customer who was spit at by a "cabbie" when he tried to use a credit card.

Newsham's cab caravan was good theatre but, in the end, the mixed messages may have done little except feed negative "cabbie" stereotypes. The protest that the public is really paying attention to is the one the anti-credit card genius's are holding every day. Uber must be pleased.

How Not to Talk to High Ranking Officials.

Brad Newsham finally scores points.

But, first, Brad shoots himself in the foot.

Director Heinicke isn't going anywhere.  He's just been reappointed. Furthermore, for better or worse, when it comes to taxis, Heinicke is the most influential member of the MTA Board. Since, we can't get rid of him, maybe we should try to free his mind instead.

The self-proclaimed "most powerful and great leader the ..." taxi "... industry has ever seen" throws a "spontaneous" tantrum.

In recorded history, has anyone ever advanced a cause by embarrassing, insulting or threatening powerful officials?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

MTA Board: PIM's, Electronic Waybills, C.C Fees et al

The Tuesday June 5, 2012 MTA Board meeting was a little strange even before it started.

I ran into Director Malcom Heinicke in the elevator and said,

"Hello Director."

He smiled at me and responded,

"Call me Mal."

This from a man whose designs for the taxi industry I've been trashing for the last three years. What can it mean? Should I expect a dead fish on my doorstep? Or, is the Director one of those rare individuals (unheard of in local politics and unimagined in the taxi business) who can separate his ideas from his person?

Then, there is the above photo of Deputy Director Christiane Hayashi together with Tariq Mehmood for which I offer no explanation.

Finally, noting the above tender moment and the fact that Mark Gruberg, Hansu Kim, Carl Macmurdo, Tone Lee and John Han had all agreed on the same issue, Director Heinicke commented on the meeting's weirdness by saying,

"This wasn't in my Day Planner."

But, let me cut to the chase.

The MTA Board Voted Unanimously to Approve:

1. Lowering of credit card fees to 3.5%.

2. That the taxi industry convert to electronic waybills. 

3. That Rear-seat terminals (PIMs) be universally used in taxis.

4. Recommending to Board of Supervisors to make certain changes in the police and city codes, including the controversial eliminating the right of appeal on taxi permit hearings.

The Board Voted to "Vett" other sections of the transportation code before voting on them.

For those of you who aren't lawyers or don't hang out at City Hall, "vett" means to:  checkexaminescrutinizeinvestigateinspectlook overscreenassessevaluateappraise. At the Board meeting I said that it "sounded like a violent word" and was accidentally half right. It originally comes from veterinary surgery. Since we're dealing with cab drivers here "argue and defame" should arguably be added to the definition.

 The point of agreement among Mark Gruberg, Hansu Kim, Carl Macmurdo, Tone Lee, John Han, myself and others was that the proposed changes the transportation codes had not been properly vetted. Some people also thought this of the 3.5% credit card rate and the PIMs.

The upshot is the we should be having some Town Hall meetings soon.

Even the parts of these recommendations that seem simple have hidden complexities. I intend to explore  some of these more fully in a future post.

Next: How not to do politics.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

In Memory of Tori Landsdown

Loved ones and friends of Victoria "Tori" Landsdown (photo, with her daughter Jessica) held a memorial Tuesday night, May 29th, 2012 at the Trocadero boat house in Stern Grove. It was her birthday. Tori would have been 62.

Although a sad and solemn occasion, it turned into a celebration of a life lived to the fullest. Tori was an artist, a cab driver and raised champion dogs which she ran through agility obstacle courses. She loved nature, her dogs, her children, her neighbors, opera and the San Francisco Giants.

People who knew her from all these various aspects spoke of her wit, courage and vitality, of the joy she took in life and gave to others. They talked about how knowing her had enriched their lives.

A friend of Jessica's said that Tori was the only parent that they ever invited to parties. In fact, they thought she was so much fun that they wouldn't throw a party without her and that she would dance everyone else into the ground.

A fellow Giants fan told of how Tori was voted the "Queen" of a rooting section in Candlestick Park (back when her kids were small and they were poor) and how she magically contrived to get most of her subjects into games for free most to the time.

A friend who knew her as both a painter and a cab driver said that she went to visit Tori in the hospital and found that she had organized a party in her ward.

I knew her through the taxi politics of the last three years. Tori was a medallion holder who was very concerned with helping non-medallion drivers. She was on the board of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association and, working behind the scenes, was instrumental in keeping the Medallion Waiting List part of the Pilot Plan.

She later did research and spoke with members of the Board of Supervisors about problems with the SFPD that eventually led to increased cooperation between the cops and cab drivers.

Later I learned that she was ill all during this period.

A few months ago, drivers Barry Korengold, Franciose Spiegelman and I joined Tori for a few drinks at her neighborhood bar, the Wild Side West. Toward the end of the night, she turned toward us and said with a warm, whimsical smile, "I'm probably not going to be around too much longer."

For once I couldn't think of anything to say and let others do the talking. And I've let people who knew her better than I do the talking here. I'd like to add that I loved her wit, her spirit, her courage, her direct way of speaking and her impish laugh. She set a model for us to live intensely and well.

We rocked out the memorial in her honor.

                                      Rest in Peace.