Cab drivers sue over medallion sales

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Five cab drivers have filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, arguing that the agency’s sale of taxi permits should legally be considered a tax and that the agency’s so-called Taxi Medallion Sales Pilot Program is invalid without the approval of two-thirds of the voters.

The pilot program was put in place in part to help close the city’s $483 million dollar deficit.

San Francisco taxi drivers need permits, called medallions, to place a vehicle in operation as a cab. Medallion owners can lease the permits to other drivers when they’re not in the car. But it isn’t that easy to get a medallion; only a limited number are available.

Before the Pilot Program was initiated on February 26, taxi drivers who met eligibility requirements to receive a medallion (including a full-time driving requirement) had to put their names on a waiting list. The mediallions cost nothing but a modest processing fee -- but the average wait time was 15 years and there were 3,200 names on the waiting list before MTA closed it in December of last year.

The pilot program changes who gets priority in receiving a medallion. Essentially, the city’s going to begin selling them off -- not necessarily to the people on the top of the list but to people who can afford the set price of  $250,000. As many as 60 medallions will be sold, with 20 percent of the revenuegoing to the city, 15 percent to the MTA and five percent to a fund for driver welfare.

Drivers at the top of the list will get first shot at coming up with a down payment of $12,500, but if they don’t have the cash, others will get a chance.

 The lawsuit, Willaim D. Pallas vs. SFMTA and City and County of San Francisco, states that the pilot program should be abolished on the grounds that the revenue from medallion sales far exceeds the operating costs of the program – and is thus considered a tax – and that this “tax” should have been approved by voters before the program was even implemented.

 “The persons with money, which aren’t most cab drivers, will dominate the cab industry if this program continues,” plaintiff attorney George Surmaitis told the Guardian, “And the people who have put in the work and sweat to obtain a better life will just stay where they are on the waiting list.”

 Deputy City Attorney Wayne Snodgrass didn’t return calls by press time.

According to the MTA pilot program proposal document, the program has its benefits of allowing its drivers who are 70 years or older to retire and sell their medallions, thus increasing public safety.

 Surmaitis isn’t convinced. “It’s a response to the budget cuts and it’s an attempt to raise money very quickly without considering the impact on individuals,” he said.

 The pilot program impacts individuals such as plaintiff Gerson Garcia, who has been a cab driver for 19 years and has been on the wait list for more than 10 years. “We’ve been waiting for like 10 to 15 years to follow the system they have implemented and now they want to change it because the city needs money,” Garcia told us, “I used to be the manager of taxi dispatch at the San Francisco Airport. I gave up that job in 2008 and became a full-time taxi driver because I wanted to qualify for the medallion.”

 The other four plaintiffs in the lawsuit have been taxi drivers for 16 to 29 years and have been on the wait list an average of 13 years, with most of them turning down other job opportunities and hoping that the extra income from receiving a medallion would help them in retirement. None of these taxi drivers can afford to pay for a medallion and years of waiting will come to naught if the Pilot Program continues.

 The city filed its answer to the lawsuit on July 21, denying the allegations. The plaintiffs in the case plan to have a writ asking the court to put a halt on the sale of medallions sometime before medallion sales are scheduled to start on August 3.

Comments

"According to the MTA pilot program proposal document, the program has its benefits of allowing its drivers who are 70 years or older to retire and sell their medallions, thus increasing public safety."

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The ballot should have a warning like progressives want for cell phones. "voting for any of these people may result in endless litigation paid for you by the tax payer"

Posted by matlock on Jul. 27, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

Taxi revenue which the industry now uses to improve the earnings of some of the lowest-paid skilled workers in the city -- veteran cab drivers -- would be skimmed off by City Hall to pay the debt it has incurred because of its foolish mismanagement, with some of the money going to pay the salaries of the MUNI drivers who already make twice as much as the taxi drivers do.

And a lot of the money skimmed off would simply go to Newsom's friends, the banks and other lenders, who are out to grab every last penny they can get out of the public.

BTW Newsom, when he was trying to convince the voters to approve his new MTA ballot initiative, promised in writing that he would NOT do this exact thing. All the newspapers have a copy of the letter.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 27, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

The interest on that for a cab driver is going to be astronomical.

This is the dumbest scheme ever.

The idea that getting 70 year old cab drivers off the streets of SF makes it safer is amazing, anyone who makes that argument has never set foot downtown.

This city is run by idiots.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 27, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

Clearly the medallions are city property as is its list.

The perogative is the citys and sales should extend to the list positions as well.

Posted by Guest Doug MacTavish on Jul. 29, 2010 @ 8:32 pm

let the market decide how many cabs the city needs then.

Get rid of medallions and let anyone with a car and insurance call it a cab, because this scheme on the backs of people sitting in line to be fucked by the lefties is a failure.

Posted by matlock on Jul. 30, 2010 @ 12:14 am

Yes, the market knows everything. Like how many offshore oil rigs to construct and how to make them safe. Same with banking or wages. Who needs regulations?

Posted by Barry Korengold on Aug. 01, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

We should just force every citizen with any sort of vehicle in the city to get a taxi medalion for 250,000$ then, if we are going to go down the strawman out of context road. Remember that the SF board of supes are your masters, obey them.

What I find strange is that changing the way the city does business with the public employee unions creates such studied outrage, but screwing with these people who are on the bottom rung of the city, some of whom have been on the medallion list for years doesn't seem to ring all that many bells.

Worst run city in that nation abetted by lemmings.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 02, 2010 @ 3:34 pm

The thought of taking money from a much poorer class of people in San Francisco who on record make about 25,000 a year and giving it to a group of people who are making 60 or 70 thousand per year and have benefits and health care unlike San Francisco Taxi Drivers is unacceptable.

Taxi drivers were promised health care on several occasions which never came, the San Francisco taxi driver does not have health care, does not have a retirement, and some nights only makes about 50.00 Fifty dollars in a shift. Also treated very poorly by their companies they work for which the driver never gets any help from the city when there is a problem.

If taxi drivers had health care and retirement benefits it would not be an issue, but I think people are forgetting here, that the city is taking from people who don't have anything but their 25,000 a year.

Is this discrimination because they are immigrants mostly?

Is this because we need to bring back slavery?

Why is this?

Posted by Dean Clark on Aug. 29, 2010 @ 11:33 am

The thought of taking money from a much poorer class of people in San Francisco who on record make about 25,000 a year and giving it to a group of people who are making 60 or 70 thousand per year and have benefits and health care unlike San Francisco Taxi Drivers is unacceptable.

Taxi drivers were promised health care on several occasions which never came, the San Francisco taxi driver does not have health care, does not have a retirement, and some nights only makes about 50.00 Fifty dollars in a shift. Also treated very poorly by their companies they work for which the driver never gets any help from the city when there is a problem.

If taxi drivers had health care and retirement benefits it would not be an issue, but I think people are forgetting here, that the city is taking from people who don't have anything but their 25,000 a year.

Is this discrimination because they are immigrants mostly?

Is this because we need to bring back slavery?

Why is this?

Posted by Dean Clark on Aug. 29, 2010 @ 11:34 am

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