taxi.jpgA new process for buying and selling taxi medallions in San Francisco was approved today by the board of directors of the city’s Municipal Transportation Agency.

The medallions, permits that their owners can lease to other drivers, were previously nontransferable until the SFMTA began a pilot program in 2010 that allowed certain drivers to bypass a lengthy waiting list in exchange for a $250,000 fee.

The board decided this afternoon to make the program permanent while raising the price tag to $300,000, as well as more than doubling the percentage of that fee that would go to the SFMTA, from 15 to 33 percent. The minimum age for transferring a medallion was also lowered from 65 years old to 60.

The proposal was roundly criticized by most of the attendees of today’s board meeting at City Hall who argued that it would adversely affect drivers, particularly those who have spent decades on the waiting list, which allows drivers to obtain the medallions for free.

“You’re disregarding drivers who put their lives into the industry,” said Barry Korengold, president of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association.

Korengold likened the medallions to “a management position or tenure” that drivers spent their entire careers working toward.

“This proposal throws these drivers under the bus,” he said.

Korengold was one of seven members of the 15-member Taxi Advisory
Council, an industry committee that advises the SFMTA, who resigned prior to today’s vote, saying the board was moving forward with its proposal without the council’s input.

Chris Sweis, the chair of the TAC, said the council had spent about two years coming up with a report but did not get a chance to present it before the SFMTA released its proposal.

However, not all cab drivers opposed the plan.

John Lazar, president of Luxor Cab, bristled at the notion that his medallion was free, saying he pays taxes on it every year and said the proposal “was movement toward the right way.”

The board eventually decided to unanimously approve the plan. Director Malcolm Heinicke said allowing the transfer of the medallions “provides a meaningful exit strategy for old or disabled drivers.”

Heinicke said the sales will also provide an important revenue source for the SFMTA.
“There are significant financial needs for this agency, including taxi enforcement,” he said.

Many of the drivers complained that the agency has not done enough to stop the proliferation of illegal taxi services in the city.

Heinicke acknowledged that some action should be taken to assist the drivers who have spent a long time on the waiting list, calling it “the elephant in the room.”

He and the other directors agreed to address the issue in the coming months, including possibly using money from a cabdrivers’ fund for down payments toward the $300,000 for drivers who are unable to pay the medallion fee.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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