SFMTA ruling might cost cabbies 

click to enlarge Taxi medallions, which owners can lease out to drivers, previously required spending years on a waiting list to obtain. A new proposal would allow them to be sold for $300,000. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • Taxi medallions, which owners can lease out to drivers, previously required spending years on a waiting list to obtain. A new proposal would allow them to be sold for $300,000.

A controversial proposal to reform how The City issues its taxi operating permits will be up for approval today, despite the recent mass resignations from an industry advisory board.

For the past two years, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates cabs in The City, has run a pilot program that allows cabbies to sell their medallions for $250,000 to prospective drivers. Previously, drivers had to wait on a lengthy list, sometimes for decades, to be eligible for taxi medallions. Medallion owners can lease out their cabs to other drivers, allowing them to collect money even when they’re not on the clock.

The SFMTA has now offered up a full-time replacement program.

“For 34 years, there was a written promise that if you were a good boy and waited your turn, you’d get a medallion,” said Rich Hybels, owner of Metro Cab. “Now, the SFMTA is using the plan solely to suck money out of the industry.”

Under the new program, the cost of purchasing taxi medallions would increase to $300,000 and the minimum age for selling one would be reduced from 65 to 60. But the major sticking point for the industry is the SFMTA’s plan to collect a 50 percent transfer fee from the sales, up from the pilot program’s 15 percent.

Hybels is one of seven members of The City’s Taxi Advisory Council — established to inform the SFMTA board of directors about industry recommendations — who resigned from the 14-person body in protest of the proposal. The council made a unanimous recommendation that the SFMTA should receive no profits from medallion sales. Hybels said the SFMTA refused to consider the recommendation.

“While it’s disappointing that these individuals stepped down on the eve of such an important discussion, we will continue to work with the industry as we improve taxi service, conditions for our drivers and the overall transportation network,” said SFMTA spokesman Paul Rose.

Athan Rebelos, the general manager at DeSoto Cab, said the $300,000 price tag is a reasonable rate. But he said the 50 percent transfer fee to the SFMTA is too high.

“Nobody should be paying a tax that high,” Rebelos said. “This proposal seemed to come completely out of left field.”

Malcolm Heinicke, an SFMTA board member, said medallions are public assets and money from sales should benefit the public. Heinicke said the agency has partnered with a credit union to finance loans so drivers can afford to purchase medallions.

Along with taking a cut from driver-to-driver medallion sales, the SFMTA also has sold medallions directly to drivers in the past two years, making more than $20 million. And an additional $3.1 million has been diverted to a cabdrivers fund. However, Hybels said, the agency hasn’t made efforts to curb illegal taxis.

The SFMTA board of directors is scheduled to vote on the proposal today. If approved, the agency projects to receive $14 million from medallion sales over the next two years.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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Will Reisman

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