Saturday, August 25, 2012

What is the SFMTA Board Going to do With the List?

A few Board meetings ago Vice Chairman Cheyrl Brinkman (photo) gave a short speech saying that she really cared about doing right by cab drivers. If true, this is an indication that she and other members of the Board didn't fully understand the consequences of the vote they took on Tuesday August 21st to allow Pre-k's to sell (er, surrender) their medallions.

This became evident when the subject of continuing the List came up - after the vote.

Chairman Tom Nolan said that the Board should decide what to do with the Waiting List soon. Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin wanted to clarify the situation so that drivers should know whether or not they should wait to earn a medallion. Director Malcolm Heinicke was quoted in a paper as saying that the List was "the elephant in the room."

If so, Heinicke's been trying to shoot it down for five years. With Tuesday's vote, he succeeded. The pachyderm is laying on it's side gasping for breath. The MTA Board has already decided that few drivers will get their "earned" medallions.

Why? To understand let's look at Director of Taxi Services Chris Hayashi's proposal of May 2012.

Hayashi's Plan ....

called for the 350 Pre-K medallions to go to the Waiting List after the holders either returned them or passed on. It was based on her three year study of the cab industry and several assumptions that came from the knowledge she thereby gained:
  1. Few cabs would go to the List once medallions started to be sold. Revocations would be about the only source ... 
  2. ... except new issues. Hayashi proposed that 50% of them should go to the List. But, she's also a realist  and knew ...
  3. ... that Heinicke wanted to Bogart the medallions.
  4. Thus, the 350 Pre-K's would be the only major supplier to the List.
Another set of calculations and assumptions also came into play.
  1. At a certain point it would be just as advantageous to buy a medallion as it would to wait.
  2. Exactly when - would depend upon the age of the drivers and the length of time that they had been on the List.
  3. For instance, I put myself on the list at 48 and got my medallion at 62.
    1. If I had bought a medallion at 48, I figure that I would have been just as well off as I was from "earning" it 14 years later.
      1. This is calculated for $250,000 and buying the medallion.
      2. Paying for a "transfer" at $300,000 might be a whole different kettle of fish. I'd need some legal guarantees that I wouldn't be shafted before I'd sign up for this.
  4. There are huge advantages to holding a medallion.
    1. It's worth $10,000 to $20,000 a year in better shifts which helps balance out the loan payments.
    2. You have job security.
      1. Before I had my medallion John Lazar fired me for saying something he didn't like.
      2. After I earned my medallion I said something that Lazar didn't like then fired him.
    3. You can actually afford medical insurance.
Drivers in their 50's, 60's and 70's would be severally penalized if forced to purchase the medallions - especially after already waiting for 15 or 20 years. In most cases it would make no sense at all.

This would leave these people would have no "exit strategy" and cause them to keep driving until they dropped. Few would have been able to save any money on a $25,000 a year job. Many would die (No exaggeration or rhetorical flourish intended - just a fact.) in poverty.

Hayashi counted the number of such people at somewhere between 300 and 500 Drivers.

The Pre-K's, on the other hand, have already made around a million off of each medallion and don't have a driving requirement. Each medallion gives them from $3,000 to $4,000 per month for the rest of their lives to retire on.

Therefore, it seemed humane, rational and just to give the Pre-K medallions to the List.

But, it wasn't only a question of humanity that motivated Hayashi's plan. She has an understanding of people that seems to be totally lacking in the rest of the SFMTA. Her ultimate principle has been to serve the cab riding public.

"Happy cab drivers make happy customers," she once told me. "Bitter drivers sends Germans back to Munich telling their friends not to visit."

The only way to get more medallions to the Waiting List would be to convince the SFMTA Board that Hayashi is right.

San Francisco has the best and most knowledgeable cab drivers in the country. People from all over the world know this. It's only the locals who don't. People from all over the world tell me what a pleasure it is to take a cab in San Francisco. The reason that we are so good is that so many of us stuck around to earn the medallions. The drivers on the List helped make this city a prime tourist destination. They deserve to have the promises that were made to them kept.

Of course, the Waiting List is finished one way or other. If the SFMTA wants to attract quality drivers in the future, they will need to end the List with a legacy of justice and fair play.


  1. So whats the upshot of the 2 years of meetings, medallions for sale for $300,000 , waiting list basically on life support..what was the use of all that, just to blunt the drivers anger and steer slowly into irrelevance?

  2. Yes, it looks like it. It was 3 years not 2. I spend them thinking that I living out "I'm OK, You're OK" when it was actually the struggle of good vs evil, greatness vs stupidity. Stupidity and evil appear to have won.


  3. Amazing how much compassion shown to the pre-k's that made the most profitable investment in history. The guys at Yellow paid $30,000 and in today's money. Have made close to a million. It remains to be seen how much compassion will be shown to those that are within a couple of years of getting a earned one.
    And not a word from Yellow or Luxor about those guys. Not one word Anybody that manages to get an earned one sure as he'll should not take it to those bastards.
    Charles Rathbone was once Chairman of UTW now he is Lazar's butt boy helping to screw any driver possible.

  4. I know it's a lesser point in the article, but if you want to know why the tourists say SF cabs are good and locals think they stink, it's because taxi drivers rarely leave downtown.

    Never mind that there are tens of thousands of SF residents in the Richmond, Mission, Noe, Castro, Sunset, NOPA, Haight, etc. who would all love to have the option of taking a taxi when it suited them.

    How can you expect to win over a populace that you don't serve?