At the end of the Council of Supes meeting on Tuesday, in the list of resolutions that are usually passed without even going to committee, there was a discussion of a critical issue that has been largely ignored by the local media but has an impact. on the lives of hundreds of people. of people.
The topic, technically, was a resolution urging the SFMTA and the San Francisco Federal Credit Union to negotiate a fair deal around the post-litigation issue of the price of taxi medallions.
It is in fact a terrible failure of political leadership at city hall, which encourages hundreds of workers, mostly immigrants, to buy $ 250,000 in permits to drive a taxi, just before the same. leadership allows Uber and Lyft to illegally devastate the taxi industry.
Today, these drivers are heavily in debt or have been locked down with no way out, and the city refuses to take any responsibility.
In fact, the city fought in the courts to try to hold it accountable for the mess and won.
Here is the comeback story.
Since the 1970s, San Francisco has regulated the taxi driver’s license, also known as a medallion, according to a seniority system. No one could drive without a medallion, but if you have one you can rent it when you’re not on the road.
So when you started driving you had to hire a cab and a locket, which meant you had to pay maybe $ 100 a day to take the cab. After paying for your gasoline, you kept any remaining ticket money.
It was a life, but not a great one.
But as long as you were driving you could put your name on the waiting list, and after maybe 15 years you would get the locket, basically free. After that, you could drive without paying the rental fee, and you could rent your locket to others. At that time, you had a good middle class income.
There were problems, sometimes serious. The rules, for good reason, only allowed active drivers to have medallions; you couldn’t get one and then go into some other business and make some money renting it. Sometimes people would leave late and top the line at age 60 or older, and had to keep driving multiple shifts a week, even if they had nothing to do behind the wheel, to keep that ticket. ‘gold.
When you retired from driving, you had to give up the medallion.
The whole system prevented everyone in the taxi industry from working as a traditional employee, so drivers often did not have health insurance and stable benefits.
On the other hand, the system ensured that the drivers, and not the big companies, checked the permits. No company could own or operate a locket.
Then in 2010, the SFMTA had the idea of ââessentially privatizing the medallions. The agency decided that instead of a waiting list, the lockets would be put on the market and anyone who could find $ 250,000 could purchase one.
It was tough on the people who were at the top of the waiting list for a free medallion. All these years of waiting, what now? If you can’t find the money, SOL.
For the SFMTA, it was a huge boon; medallion sales grossed over $ 68 million.
Some drivers liked the idea, which was similar to the system in places like New York. The Federal Credit Union of San Francisco agreed to provide loans, mostly mortgages, to pay for medallion purchases, which allowed people to start their own businesses.
The price was set at a level that would allow a driver to earn a good income after making the loan repayments. And, of course, since the permits were sold in the market, if the value increased, that golden note could mean a nice retirement.
The deal the city made with the credit union: the selling price of a locket would never drop below $ 250,000.
Then mayor ed lee allowed Uber and Lyft to start an illegal taxi industry.
Gee, these were local tech companies, and Lee was going out of his way to court the tech industry.
Taxi drivers have complained. These illegal taxis, filled with venture capital money, could charge much less than the cost of doing business and hurt regulated taxis (which had to charge city hall approved fares). They lost billions of dollars a year; it was a stupid change for investors. It was the difference between surviving and not surviving for taxi drivers.
Some people who had jobs regulating the taxi industry complained. These people told me it was a disaster in the making. No one in the mayor’s office cared.
After taking possession of San Francisco by breaking the law with impunity, Uber and Lyft raised enough venture capital money to hire lobbyists who convinced the state to take over the regulation of so-called companies. transportation network, making it impossible for the city to do so. nothing about them.
The taxi industry, which was still regulated, could not compete. Suddenly those expensive lockets were almost worthless.
But since the deal with SF Federal says the price will never drop below $ 250,000, owners can’t even sell the tin badges at a discount.
This means that the people who bought them, in good faith, were still stuck with the vig. And the tech-savvy town halls didn’t give a damn about these mostly immigrant workers.
Neither did most of the news media, which were also fascinated by the tech industry. So far, only KQED has done the kind of in-depth reporting this story needs.
When the taxi industry collapsed, drivers could not repay loans. San Francisco’s federal government sued the city, arguing that city officials knew they had created an impossible situation.
In New York, medallion holders staged protests and even a hunger strike. Some have committed suicide. This fall, the city and the lender agreed to restructure the loans.
But in SF, the battle remained in the courts and the city won. Absent from all negotiations and litigation: medallion bearers.
Mark Gruberg, founder and board member of the San Francisco Taxi Alliance, told me the big problem is that the city refuses to take responsibility for creating this situation.
But because of the way the SFMTA was created (by the voters, through a Charter amendment), the Council of Supes has no direct authority over the agency.
Supper. Aaron Peskin told me that “all we can do is urge them to act.” He introduced the resolution and during public comments a number of drivers and medallion holders spoke.
The medallion failure program is a human tragedy that can only be blamed on the city of San Francisco, âsaid one driver. “It’s up to you to get it right.”
I waited on the taxi medallion list for over 15 years, and it tied me to the taxi industry, my best earning years, while waiting to get this medallion, âsaid another driver . âWhen I finally got to the top of the listâ¦ you ended the program and the city told me I had the option of leaving or buying a locket.
âAt that point I bought a locketâ¦ Now I live in huge debt under the intimidation of the SFMTA. Now they are trying to find a half-baked way out without really relieving us of our economic disaster. It’s like passing on debts to your children after you die. So in a city like San Francisco, the city should be helping its citizens and not picking on them.
The resolution was adopted. The SFMTA will most likely ignore it. And the victims of this bait and switch scam, caused entirely by the city’s failure to crack down on Uber and Lyft when they started operating illegally, will continue to suffer.