Friday, May 16, 2014

Chris Hayashi & the Wisdom of Solomon

Director of Taxi Services Christiane Hayashi has had an extraordinary impact on the cab business that goes far beyond anything you might reasonably expect from an administrator.

Her uniqueness become evident to me the first time I saw her at a Medallion Holder Association (MHA) meeting in 2009, shortly after Mayor Gavin Newsom had threatened steal all the taxi medallions and sell them to cover San Francisco's $500 million debt.

What struck me about her was the absolute absence of any sense of snobbery or superiority of rank.

Maybe I can best get my idea across by contrasting her behavior to that of MTA Board Member Bruce Oka who also came to the meeting. Oka was all smiles but he also let us know how important he was. He told us that he was in a hurry and could only stay a little while. He also hinted at inside knowledge of Newsom's plans that he couldn't quite express to us. In short, he acted like people of position usually do when glad-handing the lower classes.

Hayashi, who undoubtedly knew more about Newsom's plans than Oka did, simply sat down next to a few drivers and talked to them like they were fellow human beings. I've rarely seen anybody who held power over others act so modestly.

This may be because she has a resume that reads a little like a cab driver's. She speaks three languages and has lived in various Latin American countries as well as in Japan. Although she has worked for the city of San Francisco for over twenty years, she took a leave of absence about ten years ago to spent time in Mexico teaching skills to indigenous people and acting as the lead singer for a Salsa band.

The next time I saw the director was at her first Town Hall Meeting which most people, including myself, expected to be the usual farce designed to make a backdoor plan look like the will of the people. To put it mildly the drivers were extremely upset.

Two things stay in my mind from that meeting: One – the director was clearly in sympathy with the drivers. Two – she honestly told us that she'd been hired to get $20 million for the MTA and, that if she didn't do it, they'd hire someone else who would. What she said she could do was use the Town Hall meetings to work out a plan that would be as fair as possible to everyone.

Note about myself

When I started driving cab in 1983 I was a strong union person who tried to help organize the drivers. I gradually became disenchanted with the United Taxicab Workers (UTW) because they appeared to be more interested in their own brand of backdoor politics than in representing us. (One leader told me that THEY "would decide what cab drivers wanted.") The final straw came when the UTW talked the city into putting shields in taxis despite the fact that the vast majority of cab drivers did not want the shields.

This led to one of the largest protests that ever honked horns around the City Hall – against the shields and the so-called union claiming to represent the drivers pounding those horns. It remains the most successful taxi protest ever held in San Francisco. The shields were taken out of the cabs.

Soon afterwards, I put my name on the medallion list and stayed out of politics. Nobody was really representing the drivers and the various entities that ran the taxi business had their own agendas. Richie Weiner of Yellow Cab was the head of the Taxi Commission for god's sake – the very definition of a fox guarding a chicken coop.

Director Hayashi ...

sent me an e-mail shortly after I started writing my blog. It said, "looks like a blog to watch." This surprised me to say the least. I had yet to say one word to her and my initial posts blasted the people she worked for – the Mayor and the MTA.

I called her up and made an appointment to interview her.

It didn't take long to see that she was sincere in wanting to work out a compromise. There would've been no point in seeing me if she intended to rubber stamp whatever plan Newsom and his sidekick Malcolm Heinicke hatched.

The question was whether or not she could walk the walk. Good intentions are nice and I'd been politically involved with many people who had them only to spend hours, days, months or years pursuing ideals that turned out to be a total waste of time.

I asked her how she planned to meet her objective. She said that she'd make sure that everybody got something but nobody would get too much.

I may have laughed.

"You're talking about taxi drivers," I think I said. "You put two of them together in a room and you have five opinions. It would take the wisdom of Solomon to get them to agree on anything – much less your idea."

"Then," she said, "I'll have to find that wisdom."

From that moment on, I thought she could do it. After all (humility aside) she'd had wisdom to find the best mouth in the taxi business. Nobody else understood how effective I could be. I thought she'd be able to find whoever and whatever else she needed to finish the job.

To be continued ...


  1. Is anything concrete going on to stop uber etc?

  2. Taxi services is ticketing TNC's that pick up off the street. TPAC is suing the CPUC. The SFCDA and others are working with the state legislature to limit the TNC numbers.

  3. They ruined regulated taxi industry with unregulated street car drivers and put everybody's safety at risk. Now you don't know who is going to be picking you up. the person who will pick you up may not be the one who registered with Uber. He or she might bring different car for a pick up than the one he or she registered with.Uber is not innovation. Iphones are.

  4. I like to start driving taxi after few years of gap. Can you let me know what is the waiting time at the airport now days? Thanks in advance.

  5. So happy to read your blogs.Every time it amazes me how much truth you squeeze in your lines.

  6. I don't know what the waiting time at SFO is these days. I haven't waited there for years.