Saturday, December 15, 2012

Drug Testing - A False Positive?

Was the driver of the above vehicle (photo by Corey Lamb) on a medical marijuana break?

Not coincidentally, the SFMTA's drug & Alcohol testing policy was the high point of last Tuesday's Town Hall Meeting.

The basics of the policy will be:

1. Every new A-Card holder must pass the test to become a cab driver.
2. Every driver will be given a test at random at a location yet to be determined. Rumors is that you'd have to show up within an hour.
3. Drivers would have to be tested after accidents: involving loss of life, when a citation is issued within 8 hours, when there is bodily injury or the vehicle is damaged so that it needs to be towed.
4. Drivers might also be tested for the infamous Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion of drug or alcohol abuse. This is to be based upon specific, contemporaneous observations by trained company (MTA?) officials.

The drugs tested for are: PCP, Opiates, Amphetamines, Cocaine, Marijuana (and alcohol?)

A driver testing Positive will be immediately removed from service,  suspended for 30 days and refereed to substance abuse professionals for follow up.

If a driver refused to be tested he or she will be considered guilty with the above consequences.


On the MTA handout it says that the cost will be $125 per driver per year. Needless to say this wasn't popular with the drivers at the Town Hall meetings.

Director Chris Hayashi said during the meeting I attended that neither the cost nor having drivers pay for it are set in stone. She said that that no - the MTA will not make a profit on the test and that she got the price from one testing service. She said that she would look into others.

She also said that both she and her boss, Director Ed Reiskin, felt that charging the drivers for the test was unfair in light of gargantuan amounts of money that the MTA is already taking away from the drivers. She said that they were seeing what they could do about it.

Editorial Comment

I am against anybody driving under the influence of any drug including over-the-counter pills likely to make a people sleepy or slow down their reflexes.

If I have a cold severe enough to require pills I won't go to work. In fact, that's why I'm sitting here writing this on a Friday night instead of driving. In order to buy the medicine at Walgreens I had to show my I.D. I have yet to look up which substance required this law but, whatever it is, I clearly shouldn't be driving under its influence.

I don't drink any more but I have been an Irish drinker in the past.  However, in 28 years of cab driving, the only time I ever drove a taxi with alcohol in me was after a New Year's Eve party. I waited two hours before I started work so I think was under the legal limit. I still wouldn't recommend it. A killer hangover set in at around 4 am. That was over 20 years ago.

As for marijuana - as a child of the sixties I've been partaking in the pleasure since I was 19. This reminds me of a story about Louie Armstrong. When he asked if he thought marijuana was addictive, the great jazzman reportedly said,

"No man, it ain't addictive. I've been smokin' it for forty years."

I've always been an infrequent social user and now rarely smoke at all. There was a time when I would allow my customers to beguile me into having a hit or two in my taxi but I've long since concluded that this was a bad idea. (See The High Way to the Airport)

Nevertheless, I think that including a test that cannot measure intoxication levels, that cannot tell within reasonable parameters when a drug was used is worse than useless. PCP, Opiates, Amphetamines and Cocaine are all out of the system in two or three days. These are addictive and destructive drugs. In the Seventies, all the "creative" people I knew thought coke was the "hippest thing". Most of them ended up using the other stuff as well and most of them died before they reached fifty. Nobody driving a taxi should have a touch of these drugs in their  systems - for their own good if no one else's.

It's hard to ignore that marijuana is a drug of a different category. There is no such thing as medical PCP or Meth or Heroin or Cocaine. Marijuana use is socially acceptable and on its way to becoming legal everywhere. It's also common to have customers who have been using it or want to use it in the taxi.

Yes - of course you don't want people driving a cab when they are stoned but unless a test can demonstrate the difference between a person who smoked a joint thee weeks before the test and a person using it an hour before, the test is not fulfilling its purpose - to keep stoned, and only stoned, cab drivers off the road. As it is, anybody being treated with medical marijuana or who uses the drug on a regular basis or even once in a while is likely to test positive whether they used the drug driving a cab just before a random test or not.

The argument that these tests are being used everywhere else in California is not convincing. There was a time when everyone had to swear a loyalty oath in order to get keep their jobs. A bad idea doesn't become good because everybody does it. As it is, these tests are designed to turn up false positives if the question is whether or not people were driving intoxicated.

I have started researching the subject and, on one web site, there appears to be argument that you can determine the THC levels in the blood and use these to tell whether or not the marijuana was 2nd hand smoke. Another site sugggested that they could tell the difference between recent marijuana usage and residual use. I intend to investigate this further and I hope that Taxi Sevices will do the same.

Unless or until there is such a test, marijuana should be left out of the equation except in the case of accidents or probable cause.

The only time I smoke weed these days is sporadically with a friend of mine who uses it medicinally to calm her anxiety. I'd hate to have to give up a friendship I value to keep my job.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Ramp Medallions & Leased Permits

The MTA held Town Hall Meetings last week Lead by Director Chris Hayashi concerning Ramp Medallions, the MTA's leased permits (8,000 series) and leasing in general.

The chart on the left shows the options open to Ramp Medallion Holders (RMH's).

1. They can keep their Ramps which are worth about $2000 per month subject to driving requirements.
2. Depending up their positions on the List they can buy a regular Medallion;
a. If they are in the top 200 to 300, they can buy the $150,000 medallions and end up with $90,000 before taxes if they transfer the medallion immediately.
b. They can buy the $300,000 medallions which they can sell for a profit of $240,000 before taxes.
3. If they are over 60 years of age or disabled, they can trade the Ramp for a "Surrender" medallion which would give them $200,000 before taxes.

The probability of the Ramps only going to a few companies like Luxor and Desoto was put forward as a possibility because they are the companies that fill most ramp orders anyway. I wasn't at the afternoon session but Marty Smith of Luxor reportedly offered to take all the Ramps off the City's hands for nothing. Desoto countered by offering to buy them all.

Director Hayashi discussed various ways to motivate the Ramp drivers to pick up more rides including paying the drivers extra for pickups or making them employees thus giving them benefits.

I mentioned that being employees would enable companies to send the Ramp drivers on orders insuring that most of the customers would be picked up. Desoto manager Athan Rebelos countered by saying that Las Vegas drivers are all employees and they don't pick up all the calls. But he and I have been having this discussion for years. Hint: I'm right.

The MTA's Leased Permits

They are a numbers of rumors going around about these permits. Having processed similar rumors for the 3 year life of my blog, I think you could get a better handle on what's going on in the taxi business by randomly asking the first 12 year old you see walking down the street.

Of course Jim Gillespie of Yellow Cab should know what he's talking about, and I'm sure he does, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he's going to tell us. Nor does it mean that he necessarily understands what's happening.

At the TH meeting, Gillespie said the he no trouble filling his night shifts but he couldn't fill the day shifts because day drivers need the airport to make a living. His solution would be to the allow the 8,000 series to pick up at SFO.

Greg Cochran, who does the hiring at Desoto Cab, seems to have a better take on the situation. Contrary to rumor, by the way, Desoto has been filling its shifts with the 8,000's and otherwise. In fact, I couldn't get out last night.

 Desoto still has a large number of the new permits on the way and Mr. Cochran does think that it will take some time before all the shifts will be filled. He pointed out to me that over 600 new shifts have been created and thinks it will probably take until late spring or early summer before the companies are flush.

There are possible influences as well:

  1. Many drivers have gone to Uber because they have been able to get better situations over there then they were getting at companies like Yellow.
  2. If you include the S series around 800 new shifts have been created.
  3. There will soon be over be over 1,700 taxis on the street when we are already into winter with the seasonal drop off of business.
  4. Drivers now have real choices for the first time in years and will naturally gravitate toward the companies that treat the them best. There is a good possibility that Yellow Cab won't act as a magnet for many of these drivers.
One hot rumor on the mail sites is that Royal Cab couldn't fill its shifts and had turned the 8,000 series permits back to the MTA.

I called Chris Sweis of Royal this morning and he said that he'd been filling his 8,000 shifts for two months. The rumor he'd heard was that Desoto and Luxor couldn't fill their shifts and didn't want the permits.

You can check out Luxor for yourself.