Schneider has driven cab for over thirty years in San Francisco but never put his name on the Waiting List. He sees these permits as correcting an injustice in the original Prop-K legislation. (For more of his thoughts on the subject see the end of the post.)
Dave seemed so excited that he reminded me of a fifteen year old who had just bought his first car and was trying to be cool. He says that he intends to drive Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday nights so that the other drivers of the cab will have some decent shifts. It's the first time in his career that he's had the choice to work when he wants.
The Evolution of an Idea into Reality.
The idea of "Peak Time" taxis has been around for at least as long as Schneider's been driving. It was given new life by driver and blogger John Han who first proposed "Single Operator Permits" during a Town Hall meeting a few years ago. Deputy Director Chris Hayashi liked the idea and ran with it. Why? It offered a solution to the eternal San Francisco problem of too much business at certain times and too little at others.
Han, Hayashi and others at the meetings originally proposed that the SOPs should be owned like an affiliate by a single driver who would be allowed to work a maximum of 60 hours per week. There would be no designation of what hours the driver should choose but it was assumed that he or she would naturally self-select to work busy times like Friday and Saturday Nights or conventions and avoid the slow times.
During the Town Hall meetings in the spring of 2011, the concept was modified. Hayashi thought that SOPs would be a good way to reward drivers like Dave who had not put their names on the List but nonetheless had driven cabs for 20 or 30 years. It was pointed out that older drivers might not want to put in 60 hours a week so the possibility of a second driver to share the cab was added.
The SOP's happened to mirror a longtime plan of SFMTA Director Malcom Heinicke for "Peak Time" taxis. The main difference was that Heinicke wanted the cabs to be driven at fixed times. There was some back and forth between the Director and the people at the Town Hall meetings. The argument that peak times actually fluctuated and changed with conventions, sporting events and so forth carried the day and 50 "Single Operator Permits" were approved by the SFMTA last summer.
The Current Plan: A Different Kettle of Fish.
The SOP's have morphed into a very different program.
- They now have a single permit holder and will be run as gates&gas instead of affiliates.
- The vehicles will be run for 90 hours instead of 60.
- The vehicles will be bought and owned by color schemes.
- The color scheme must be able to produce electronic trip data.
- The color scheme will fill the shifts that the permit holder doesn't drive.
- All conditions that apply to a regular medallion will apply to these permits.
- The permit holder must drive 800 hours per year.
- The permits are for a term of three years with an option to renew for three years.
- The permit holder and the SFMTA both have the right to reject renewal.
- If the permit isn't being used properly, the MTA can terminate at any time.
I interviewed MTA Investigator Mike Harris who is running the program. He said the changes were made because:
- None of the older drivers wanted to buy the cars themselves.
- None wanted to work as affiliates or choose their own drivers.
- The hours expanded from 60 to 90 hours because the cab companies complained that they couldn't make a profit at 60 hours.
When I pointed out that this defeated the purpose of the SOPs, Harris disagreed. He said that most of the old school drivers didn't want to drive at peak hours. They wanted to drive Sundays, Mondays or Tuesdays and leave the busy hours (along with the drunks) to younger drivers.
One Beauty of the Taxi Business ...
... is that if you do something for one group of people everyone else complains.
1. Company owners and managers don't like the SOPs because they think that they won't be profitable enough.
At Green Cab, Treasurer Joe Mirabile said that he didn't know how they were going to make money off the SOPs. On the other hand, Green didn't have to buy new cars for the first two permits that they put out because the company recently lost a couple of medallions. All they had to do was invest in a new paint job.
Desoto Cab owner Hansu Kim said that the SOPs would make little or no profit.
"They should either have put them out with one driver/owner for the 60 hours or just given the older drivers regular medallions," he added.
However, he also said that he would pay $1,000 a month to any Single Operator Permit holder who ran the taxi through Desoto.
2. Non-medallion driver and TAC member Tone Lee, who had strongly supported the original plan of one or two drivers and 60 hours, is very upset by the expansion to 90 hours.
I ran into him at the Mariott Marquis on Thursday and he talked about how slow it was on a night that was supposed to be busy and predicted that the SOPs would have devastating effect on the Monday night business. He also thought that it was unfair to give out the permits by A-card seniority rather than to people on the Waiting List and he feared that the permits would eventually be turned into full time medallions.
Of course Tone has a right to his opinions but I think he's wrong on one of his complaints.
He said the MTA was giving the permits to former medallion holders who had already sold their medallions.
I put the subject to Mike Harris who said that two former medallion holders had applied but he turned them down. He added that allowing former medallion holders to get permits, "was not the plan and is not the plan."
He said that anybody who knew the name of a former medallion holder who was given a SOP should contact him at (415) 701-5493.
If you don't feel comfortable talking to Mr. Harris, you can send the name to me and I'll pass it on.
Lee is organizing a protest for the MTA on Tuesday July 17th at 1 PM. Refreshingly, he's asking the drivers NOT to drive around City Hall and NOT honk horns. He just wanted drivers who are upset by the SOPs to show up and speak.
If you're in favor of the SOPs, you should also show up and say your piece.
I have mixed feelings. Like Mr. Lee I liked the original plan - especially the 60 hour limit. But, I also like the idea of rewarding older drivers who have driven for years but aren't eligible for an earned medallion. Besides, 90 hours is 50 or 60 hours less than cabs are ordinarily driven. This means that drivers stuck with the really bad hours are unlikely to see much new competition.
"Did you put your name that list yet?... No! ... Boy are you stupid!"
I finally caved just to shut her up. If I hadn't had the good/bad luck to be hooked up with this Harpie, I'd be in the same situation as Mr. Schneider. I'm happy that these guys are finally getting a little something after all the the contributions they've made to the business.
As for the people on the List ... well, unless the MTA screws them (not a possibility to be discounted) in the final plan, they should be able to either earn their medallions or buy them.
I don't like the expansion of the hours but I think that fifty cabs added on Monday or Tuesday peak times aren't a real problem. Increasing the fleet by 3% isn't going to break anybody's bank.
The real reason that it was slow on Thursday (and almost every other day) are the hundreds of illegal limos and taxis either racing us down the streets or bribing doorman so they can steal our fares. My number one priority is to encourage the City and the MTA to stomp on them - while our medallions still have some value.
In the meantime, congratulations to Dave and the others.