taxi.jpgIt might be a good idea to mark Tuesday, August 2nd as your own personal Bike to Work Day. That’s the day labor groups have tentatively scheduled to grind San Francisco’s transportation infrastructure to a virtual halt. More of a halt than it’s already ground to, we mean.

Leaders of a group of San Francisco cab drivers have been in talks with union officials representing over 2,000 Muni operators and are planning a simultaneous strike designed to send a message of frustration to SFMTA, the governing body that oversees both industries.

That particular date was chosen because it coincides with a meeting of the SFMTA’s governing board.

The groups were brought together last month by labor activist and erstwhile supervisorial candidate Steve Zeltzer, who saw commonalities in the way the two communities felt slighted by city regulators.

“Both of these groups are being attacked by the SFMTA,” Zeltzer told SF Weekly.

On June 21st, a group of taxi drivers led by Tariq Mehmood engaged in a two-hour strike in conjunction with a protest event held in front of City Hall.

While the event only drew about 500 of the city’s approximately 7,000 cab drivers, it was nevertheless an impressive organizational effort to corral even that many cab drivers –they’re a notoriously fractious bunch and previous attempts to organize them into a single force have proven largely fruitless.

Ask a taxi driver why he or she is angry with SFMTA and you’ll doubtlessly get a long list of grievances. First among them is the 5% fee the agency recently imposed on credit card transactions. During the preceding decade, the processing of credit cards was handled by the cab companies, who were prohibited from passing the cost of doing so onto individual drivers.

After a decade of lobbying, SFMTA changed the rules earlier this year allowing cab companies to charge drivers for cost of processing cards under the condition that some of the money raised go toward the installation of back seat credit card terminals.

The terminals, which would be similar to the widely loathed installations in the backseats for New York City taxis, would play a combination of advertisements and public service announcements about San Francisco. While 10% of the revenue SFMTA generates from the ads is slated for the Drivers’ Fund, many cab drivers fear it won’t be nearly enough to offset the revenue they’d sacrifice by losing 5% every time a passenger pays with a credit card–something some in the industry think could account for half of all cab fare payments within the next decade.

Drivers also have concerns about a new system of electronic waybills designed to automatically collect locational information about fares they pick up and drop off. While proponents of electronic waybills insist the new system will help the industry more effectively regulate itself, tell drivers about the best places to pick up customers and significantly cut down on the amount of time drivers spend filling out required paperwork by hand, many cab drivers fear that the electronic system could compromise their personal information.

SFMTA hoped to quell these fears with a hike in the rate cabs are allowed to charge their passengers; but, even though the rate increase was approved by SFMTA’s governing board in May, it has stalled before going into effect.

There’s growing momentum among many cab drivers to move out from under the jurisdiction of SFMTA and into a system akin to the days of the Cab Commission, before the regulation of taxis was handled by the same body that oversees the doling out of parking tickets.

For their part, Muni drivers have their own long set of grievances with SFMTA. Many operators are still unhappy with the way that their contentious contract negotiation with SFMTA management turned out. After the breakdown of negotiations following union rank-and-file’s rejection of a contract agreed to by both union and SFMTA leadership, an independent arbiter effectively forced union members into a contract that looked nearly identical to the one they had turned down only days earlier.

In the midst of those contact talks, union members approved a measure allowing leadership to call a strike–even though such a strike is expressly forbidden in the city charter. Although the threatened strike never materialized, it indicated a willingness among Muni operators to engage in a work stoppage, city charter be damned.

At this point, virtually all the talk of a coordinated strike has come from the cab drivers’ side with union reps for Muni drivers keeping largely mum–meaning that, if push comes to shove, there’s a chance, come August 2nd, the taxi drivers may be going it alone.

Calls to union leadership by the Appeal have yet to be returned.

On a related note, the San Francisco Bike Coalition regularly offers Urban Cycling Workshops to help new bikers get comfortable riding around the city. Just saying.

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