Outraged over a 5 percent transaction fee that would help pay for backseat credit card terminals, hundreds of cabbies crowded into City Hall on Tuesday and threatened to strike if the fee is not rescinded.
“If they keep screwing with us, you wait till next month,” said Luxor cabbie Doug Woods. “There will be a strike.”
The 5 percent credit card fee was imposed upon drivers last month by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Spokesman Paul Rose said 3 percent covers credit-card processing fees, while the remaining 2 percent goes to terminal vendor Verifone.
“We’ll shut it down,” said Veteran’s Cab driver Mary McGuire, pointing to a long line of honking cabbies directly outside City Hall. “People can only take so much.”
If angry drivers were to strike, the work stoppage probably would be selective. But even a partial shutdown worries SFMTA officials, who have also been warned about a possible transit strike in the event of a breakdown in labor negotiations with Muni transit operators.
“It’s something that we heard today and that we are concerned about,” Rose said. “But we remain committed to the customer.”
To ease drivers’ cost burden, agency officials plan to discuss a possible increase in cab fares, which haven’t increased since 2003. But for drivers already affected by rising gas prices and poor tipping during a recession, talks of a fare increase come too late.
“Something needs to be straightened out here,” said Dean Clark, a National Cab Company driver who said he takes home about $60 to $70 on a slow night. “It should be passed down to the customer, that 5 percent.”
Cabbie Tariq Mehmood said the average driver needs to earn about $104 a day to pay for cab rental before he earns a single penny for himself. The 5 percent fees amount to a hit of $250 to $300 a month, he said.
John Han of Yellow Cab said after cab companies complained to the SFMTA about the costs of credit card processing, the agency brokered a deal to install a new backseat system and pass the fees along to drivers.
“We don’t want them in there,” Han said. “And I don’t think I should have to pay for it.”
Agency officials disagree, however.
“We made this decision to benefit our customers and we remain committed to that,” Rose said, adding that town hall meetings scheduled for May 11 and 16 will help “determine the best way to move forward.”
Taxi terminals seen as invading privacy
A series of proposals to upgrade taxi technology is the driving force behind the rising discontent of San Francisco’s cab drivers.
Last year, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates taxis in San Francisco, approved a measure that would allow cab companies to pass along credit card fees to their drivers. The SFMTA approved this provision at the urging of the taxi companies, which were paying increasingly high credit card fees due to the advent of card readers in cabs.
Major companies such as Luxor and Yellow Cab began imposing the 5 percent fees on their drivers, prompting a strong backlash. Since most credit card companies charge only 2 to 3 percent in processing fees, the cab drivers say the 5 percent fee is punitive.
Paul Rose, spokesman for the SFMTA, said the 5 percent charge not only covers the card-processing fees but also pays for the installation of new screens that act as credit card readers.
Drivers also are upset at the installation of electronic waybilling equipment that tracks routes drivers take during their shifts. It was introduced to replace paper records.
Many drivers say the equipment is an invasion of privacy. There have been concerns as well that the information captured may be aired to third parties.
- Will Reisman
Proposed rate increases
Taxi fares, flat since 2003, might go up.
Radio dispatch fee: $2 flat fee during nonpeak hours; $5 flat fee during peak hours
Gas surcharge fee: $0.10 per one-fifth mile, $0.10 per minute of wait time
Wait time and mileage fare: From $0.45 per one-fifth mile ($2.25/mile) to $0.55 per one-fifth mile ($2.75/mile), and $0.45 per minute ($27/hour) to $0.55 per minute ($33/hour).