Think it’s hard to catch a taxi on Friday night? Imagine an evening out in San Francisco with NO taxi cabs at all.
Some taxi drivers are repeating threats to go on strike should the Municipal Transportation Agency not reverse its stance on charging drivers a surcharge when passengers pay by credit card, a group of cab drivers warned on Tuesday afternoon.
At issue is a five-percent fee the MTA is charging drivers for credit card transactions. The MTA requires all taxi drivers accept credit card (though we hear of the odd cab here or there without credit card machines); the drivers are prohibited by law from passing on the five-percent surcharge to passengers, meaning there’s no other place for the MTA’s fee to come from a driver’s pocket.
“We have to pay for passengers using their credit cards. It’s not right,” said Bay Cab driver Renate Wimiarkiewicz, who has been a taxicab driver since 1994 and a medallion holder since 2009.
In addition to credit card fees, SFMTA board members approved Tuesday new pay rates that will make San Francisco’s taxis the most expensive in the nation.
Drivers are irked because as independent contractors, they do not receive any benefits, from sick time to health benefits, and the credit card fees are seen as dipping into an already poor-person’s pockets to balance a budget deficit.
MTA spokesman Paul Rose did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
While the raised rates are still being discussed, the five percent surcharges have begun. Yellow Cab driver Alok Dutt, one of a group of drivers protesting in front of City Hall on Tuesday, said that if the MTA did not drop the credit card fees, “we are all going to strike.”
Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is on record opposing the changes to the MTA’s taxi fees, said a strike should be avoided, but that there’s not much the city’s elected officials can do other than pass resolutions and hope to negotiate a settlement.
Barry Korengold, a taxi driver and president of the San Francisco Cab Drivers’ Association, said his organization is not organizing a strike, nor is a strike on the forefront of a majority of drivers’ minds.
However, “there is talk” about such a drastic move, and certainly every driver is opposed to the five percent fees.
“Most” fares pay by credit card these days, especially bigger fares such as trips to San Francisco International Airport, which can represent the bulk of a driver’s business for a given shift, Korengold said.
“They’re forcing us to take credit cards and forcing us to pay for it,” Korengold said. “We’re independent contractors, not employees, and they’re treating us like employees.”