Thursday, November 8, 2012

S. F. Board of Appeals Rejects UTW Appeal

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Board of Appeals turned down Mark Gruberg's and the United Taxicab Worker's (UTW) appeal to have the Board decide if the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) has the right to lease a 150 taxi permits to cab companies.

The only person on the Board who was important for these proceedings was President Chris Hwang (photo) who had missed an earlier hearing on October 24th and was the swing vote on the matter.

The question at issue was whether or not the Board had the right to judge policy created by the MTA.

Gruberg argued that the MTA had a financial interest in the taxicab business and should not be allowed to make policy without the checks and balances of the Board of Appeals.

Director of Transportation, Ed Reiskin, argued that: (1) the voters had spoken on Proposition A to give the MTA the exclusive right to make policy; (2) that the complexity of the MTA's balancing of its various divisions of buses, bikes, taxis et al made it almost impossible for outsiders to judge its decisions; and (3) that it would be impossible to function if all its policies were reviewed by an outside agency.

Numerous speakers countered by pointing out that the part of Proposition A that the gave the MTA control over taxicabs and the right to set policy for the industry was buried deep in the voter's pamphlet. In fact, the MTA's takeover of the cab industry wasn't even mentioned on the front page of the ballet digest.

What I mentioned was that, by Reiskin's logic, the Supreme Court would not be qualified to make judgements on laws created by Congress.

 Several other drivers, pointed out that the MTA had made its decisions with no input from cab drivers or the cab industry and before a study of the taxi industry by Dan Hara & Associates was even completed. They also argued that the main interest that MTA had in taxis was to take money from cab drivers to balance its budget. 

Twenty or so drivers spoke, mostly to the point, although a few brought up their personal despair, which wasn't to the point, but should have been.

President Hwang seemed sincerely sympathetic to the plight of the drivers and even suggested that we organize against a situation that she clearly thought was unfair. Nonetheless, she also thought that she had no right to make judgments over the policies of the MTA and cast the deciding vote against Gruberg's appeal.

One good thing

The Board of Appeals will continue to hear appeals by individuals concerning medallions and other cab issues as they have in the past. This was a concern for many drivers.

Notes and Thoughts

 - Supervisor Scott Wiener, who appears to have no policies other than public nudity and improving San Francisco's taxi business, stopped by to praise the MTA plan, saying that it was a "step in right direction." Yes - there's nothing like having a couple of thousand demoralized, bitter and angry cab drivers on the street to improve service to the public.

- Director of Taxi Services, Christiane Hayashi argued that these 150 permits were for only for a three year time limit and couldn't go to cab drivers anyway because they were temporary and might be taken back.  

She held out the possibility that, if the Hara study called for more cabs, these might go to drivers on the list. 

- I don't really believe that this decision was not that much of a loss. Like Reiskin, I think that this matter might be too complex for this Board of Appeals to handle - although for very different reasons than Reiskin's. The taxicab business is unique and complex both in the way it operates and its history. It would very difficult for an outsider to understand what's happening, what's been going on, what the issues really are.  

- President Hwang gave an indication her lack of understanding when she asked the MTA if they were "transparent" which of course the MTA said they were pointing to Town Hall meeting and, incredibly, the Taxi Advisor Council (TAC). Hwang asked this question after a dozen drivers had told her that the MTA refused to pay any attention to driver input and that half the members of the TAC had resigned in protest because the MTA refused to even hear their recommendations.

Well ... the Town Hall meetings are still being held and the public can have it's minute or two to comment but all the decisions and polices are clearly being made behind closed doors - often in violation of San Francisco's Sunshine Ordinance.

But don't take my word for this. Take MTA Board Director Malcolm Heinicke's.  On May 17, 2012, he send an e-mail to fellow MTA Board members Tom Nolan and Cheryl Brinkman as well as MTA secretary Roberta Boomer with a Cc to Diector Ed Reiskin saying,

"... most of all we all need to come to agreement on this (the MTA's plan) as best we can BEFORE IT IS FORMALLY PROPOSED." (My capitalization.) 

"If that means we need to move this piece of the overall package to a latter meeting, so be it, but we need to get our agreed plan and then sell the Mayor and the Supes."

The MTA Board has obviously been coming to agreements before anything is "formally proposed" for at least the last 6 months.

In the process, the Board's attitude toward taxi drivers has become more and more "transparent." As Heinicke put it in the same e-mail,

"... Chris (Hayashi) is significantly limiting the revenue to the MTA and sending more to the amorphous Drivers's fund. I understand why she is doing this but it is not good policy in my view. The MTA should get revenue. And, if we do not push for that, we are sacrificing the needs of the City to placate a few cab drivers."

Some other form of appeal has to be found or the MTA will suck every cent it can get from taxi drivers.


  1. I attended the MTA Bd Policy and Governance Committee Friday. The issue was the wildly unfair color scheme fees imposed by MTA. Metro Pays $4300 and Yellow pays $8,000. Metros' fee has gone up %75 since MTA has taken over and yellow's has gone up zero. Yellow is 22 times the size of Metro.
    Hayashi and Reiskin argued to the Board that it costs more to manage a small company than a big one. Of course it does. I should have known that.
    I further complained that it is not the money so much as the deference shown to big companies. I learned by accident last year that the big companies are secretly allowed to pay the gigantic annual medallion fees and color fees in payments while Metro writes one gigantic check. Chris H. says it's not secret you just have to ask if you want a payment plan.
    I did not go into it then but leasing 150 permits to the big companies and almost none to the small guys just might be further considered favoritisim.

    1. The city is picking winners and losers in the cab industry, and who knows if there is any graft going here to top it off. The whole process is opaque unfair, and out of control. There is no real fair over sight of the cab industry. This smacks of criminality and injustice.

    2. Richard...

      I blame it on the weather... Ours is mellow, low modulation, laid-back. It makes us residents the same way.

      "Oh, you wanna rape me? No big thing. I'm mellow."

      If the drivers in NYC and Boston were raped like our SFMTA is raping the drivers and small companies....there would be "blood in the streets"..

      The small companies and the aggrieved drivers should band together and sue, after reaching agreement on a fair solution.....


  2. Hi Ed, Though as usual there is much good information in your report, I have to say that this time there is one perhaps important inaccuracy.

    This is at least the second time the taxi drivers have been cheated by committees that have been incompetently maintained by the City. When the Taxi Commission tried to fire Heidi Machen, Mayor Newsom merely fired some of the Commissioners, since their terms were expired. And this time the Board of Appeals is down one member. I say that this is a form of corruption in City governance through convenient incompetence – not to change committees’ memberships until it is politically convenient.

    Of course, MTA Board member Heinecke is still an outrage, plotting consensus before political process can happen. He is guilty of a crime against the people, claiming it is in the name of the people doesn’t mean it’s not a crime. The abused drivers are people too. We are in a generation in which “positive” law is so triumphant that ONLY “legalities” are being considered, NEVER the sense of things. So we are not getting justice according to MEANING, only according to WHAT LAWS ARE AVAILABLE TO TALK ABOUT. And some of these laws are being ignored. Indeed, the very idea of considering “the sense of things” is being treated as improper. It is in this way that law is being actively used to create injustice. IT IS BECAUSE OF THIS SORT OF INJUSTICE THAT SOME PEOPLES ABROAD CRITICISE MODERN AMERICA, AND RIGHTLY.

    To the substance of your article. It is not true that the “The question at issue was whether or not the Board had the right to judge policy created by the MTA.” I remind you that that is the INTERPRETATION that the Nay-sayers on the Board put to the question. The Yay-sayers allowed that it was a permit issue.

    The question at issue (on entering the dispute) was whether appeals could be made on the basis of groups of medallions. I believe that since a question of this sort most plausibly arises from labor groups, this was further Union-busting.

    But, even if it WERE a policy issue there is no reason the Board of Appeals could not have taken jurisdiction. The President of the Board is partly ignorant of the situation, and partly unconcerned (NOT “sympathetic” as you say – those were merely her words.)

    You get at an important point when say Hwang was ignorant of important aspects of the situation. It is absurd to have someone judging when they do not know what they are talking about.

    I am reminded of the Federal judge who decided in favor of Luxor Cab’s not paying employee tax. When a far-reaching decision that would have been for cab industry. It would have been an important step in raising us above “scab” labor status.

    When I mentioned ramp cabs in passing, the judge stopped me and asked about what a ramp cab is. He had no idea.

    If there is some idea afoot that ignorance on the part of judges is somehow a desirable part of the blinding of justice (as though blind justice is a good thing to begin with), I say this is not what is meant by objectivity. Ignorance can NEVER be a part of objectivization. We are getting some pretty incompetent judges.

    If labor were able to appeal decisions, this could be a major process obstacle for MTA tyranny, so rather than allow a dangerous increase in the hopes of the dispossessed, the Board of Appeals nixed the whole process. All decisions that might improve the status of drivers are being systematically blocked. THAT is the real “policy” we are dealing with.

    I loved your remark that “by Reiskin's logic, the Supreme Court would not be qualified to make judgments on laws created by Congress.” This is the sort of common-sense observation that seems never to fly. My observation that, according to Division Two of the Transportation Code, Regulation 11-15, it is completely illegal for there even to BE a consideration of medallions at this time, since there has been such an issuance within the least year, also was ignored. The MTA is completely out of line.