Obtaining an operating permit for a cab used to be about patience. About a year-and half ago it became amount money. Now stakeholders are trying again to create a system that satisfies the demands of riders, the livelihood of drivers and the need of The City to raise revenues.
Since 2010, veteran holders of taxi medallions—permits that allow owners to lease their cars out to other drivers for a daily fee—have been able to sell their coveted wares for $250,000 to eligible applicants under a pilot program that is about to expire.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates cabs in The City, gets a 15 percent of those transfers, plus it is able to sell a limited amount of medallions itself for $250,000 apiece.
The pilot program has generated nearly $17 million for the cash-strapped SFMTA in the last year-and-half.
However, the program has been criticized by drivers, who, under longstanding rules, can qualify for a medallion by paying a small fee and biding their time on a waiting list. The City limits the number of medallions to balance supply and demand needs, and some drivers who have been waiting for decades on the list have been skipped over by applicants with deeper pockets, which has restricted their chances even more.
On Monday, the Taxi Advisory Council, a body that recommends industry policies to the SFMTA, is expected to vote on a permanent taxi medallion sales program. There are currently seven competing proposals—brought forth by drivers, medallion holders and companies.
One proposal recommends setting aside a “substantial amount” of taxi medallions for drivers who have been on the waiting list for more than 15 years. Another proposal recommends a prorated payment plan for drivers on the list. Many plans include provisions to reduce the 15 transfer fee to the SFMTA and establish a more robust drivers fund to help cabbies with retirement and health benefits.
Conversely, a proposal submitted by Luxor Cab Company wants to ramp upsales to get more cabs out on the street. It wants 200 medallions to be sold immediately for $250,000 apiece, 100 medallions made available for a $25,000 transfer fee to the most senior members on the waiting list, and 200 more medallions dispersed to cab companies for leasing out on a daily basis.
If a permanent proposal is recommended by the TAC on Monday, it would go up for final adoption by the SFMTA at a later date.
Cab industry at a glance
1,500: Medallions in circulation in San Francisco
5,000: Cabdrivers in San Francisco
$250,000: Cost to purchase a medallion
70: Age you must be to sell medallion
$16.8 million: Revenue generated to the SFMTA through taxi medallion sales