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
"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.