San Francisco voters approved Proposition K in 1978 which put an end of the sale of taxi medallions.
San Francisco voters passed Proposition A in November 2007 giving the Board of Supervisors the option of transferring the powers of the Taxi Commission to the SFMTA. The Supervisors did so and the SFMTA took over the regulation of the taxi industry on March 1, 2009.
In January of 2009, Mayor Gavin Newsom, who had promised not to put medallions up for sale if Proposition A passed, came out with a plan to take all the taxis medallions away from the current medallion holders and sell them in order to cover San Francisco's $500 million dollar debt.
Apparently Newsom's advisors had told him that there were a few problems with the plan – like the fact that even if he put it into effect he would be sued seven ways from Sunday and wouldn't get the money for a long, long time. There also was the question of who would buy medallions under such conditions?
The Mayor, who as a legislator was known for his good looks and effective sound bites, deferred to his advisors and announced a series of Town Hall meetings. Newsom thus seemingly passed the problem of reforming the cab business to the taxi industry itself.
The new Director of Taxis and Available Services Christiane Hayashi ...
... held the first Town Hall meeting in March 2009. Regular meetings followed. Everyone who wanted could submit a plan for taxicab reform. I think there were over a dozen position papers all together. The plans were analyzed, discussed and argued over at the meetings. I'm not going to go into detail here but the one that most caught my eye had no name on the cover but was clearly the work of Newsom's taxi advisor, SFMTA Board Director Malcom Heinicke. The title should've been, How to Shaft Cab Drivers. In any case, the Town Hall meetings aburptly ended in early July, 2009.
On Monday Night, August 31, 2009 ...
Director Hayashi called me and told me that she was going to be demoted to Deputy Director the next morning at 8:30 am.
I went to the committee meeting where this took place as did Barry Korngold of the SFCDA, Mark Gruberg of the UTW, Carl Macmurdo of the MHA, Jim Gillespie of Yellow Cab, Jane Bolig of Desoto Cab, other company people and several drivers.
Ford finished with the topic and was about to go onto something he clearly considered more important when I rose and asked to be able to speak. He thought about it then shrugged and gestured "why not?" He soon found out when I delivered my first ever speech to the MTA. My only regret is that I didn't photograph the stunned, hostile expression on his face. It was priceless.
I was followed by a dozen other speakers who trashed Ford's plan for either demoting Hayashi or the taxi industry – usually for both.
I've often wondered if we in the taxi business would have come up with a workable compromise plan if Newsom had not shown his true colors that day. I mean Ford could have curbed Hayashi's power without demoting the entire industry. The fact that he (actually Newsom) did so was a clear sign: One – that the Town Hall meetings had indeed been the farce that many thought they would be; Two – of the utter contempt with which the city administration held both cab drivers and taxicab companies.
The result of this was considerably different than the unholy trio could have intended or imagined.
This was first time that everyone from the various sides of the taxi business had acted in concert.
Before that morning, I don't know if anyone even thought such a thing was possible. Before that morning, it had always been the owners vs the drivers and the regular drivers vs the medallion holders. Without what amounted to a pre-emptory attack by the city against the entire taxi industry and the ensuing protest, the eventual compromise plan might never have been achieved.
Prior regulators of taxis had always favored one faction or another. Some sided more with companies than drivers. Some more with drivers than companies. And, of course, all previous taxi commissions and commissioners had talked the improving-service-to-the-public talk. In demoting Hayashi and taxi industry, Newsom/Heinicke gave notice that none of this mattered. Their only mantra was "show us the money." They let us know that they were less regulators than predators.
The result was that they unified the taxi industry against them.
Why was Hayashi Demoted?
Simple. Newsom/Heinicke wanted to end the medallion waiting list. They wanted to kill it right away. This meant that drivers, like Francoise Speiglemen, who had worked driving taxi for fifteen or twenty years would be left with nothing.
People have asked me why I'm such a Hayashi fan. Well – this is the reason. If she hadn't been willing to sacrifice her position for what she believed in, no cab driver on the list would have gotten an earned medallion after September 2009. If it hadn't have been for Hayashi there would be no "S" medallions. No driver would have been able to buy a medallion for half price. All the medallions would have been either leased by the city or sold to the highest bidder at auction.
There is nothing I admire more than moral courage. It's rare for anyone to be willing to sacrifice a career for a either a principle or another person. To go to the wall for a bunch of taxi drivers would've been beyond imagining if Chris Hayashi hadn't done it.