Cabbies sue taxi firms, claim overcharging

Lawsuit alleges three companies neglected to roll back gate fee during 26-month period, costing drivers $8M

A group of taxi drivers filed a lawsuit Thursday against three of the largest cab companies in San Francisco for allegedly overcharging them to take cabs out for a day’s work.

United Taxicab Workers, a group of about 500 cabdrivers, allege that Yellow Cab, Luxor Cab and Speck Cab Co. owe cabdrivers up to $8 million in total overcharges.

The cabdrivers say that between September 2004 and November 2006 these companies had failed to roll back their gate fee — the charge drivers must pay cab companies to drive their cab for a 10-hour shift.

Legislation adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 2002 allowed the gate to increase from $83.50 to $91.50. The increase, however, was tied to providing health care coverage for most of The City’s 6,000 cabdrivers.

If a health care plan was deemed infeasible or if a health care plan was adopted, then the gate fee could remain at $91.50, otherwise it would have to drop to $85.

Given the fact that the health care plan was never deemed infeasible and that no health care plan has yet been adopted, the gate fee should have rolled back to $85 on Sept. 1, 2004, the Controller’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office said recently.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday with the San Francisco Superior Court, seeks restitution up until November, since the Board of Supervisors recently approved a gate increase of $91.50 beginning Nov. 1.

“Nobody wanted to violate the law. But we don’t believe we did,” said Philip Ward, an attorney who represents the Luxor and Yellow cab companies.

Ward argues that the gate fee should never have rolled back because no feasible health care plan was ever identified by the Controller’s Office or the city Department of Public Health.

Speck Cab Company’s general manger, Tyler Speck, said his company has only done what it thought was right. For the past three years The City “never said you had to go back” to the $85 gate fee, Speck said.

“The taxi commission has not made it a priority to audit the companies and make sure that they were complying with this particular rule,” said Heidi Machen, executive director of The City’s Taxicab Commission, which oversees the taxi industry. “The taxi commission has a limited amount of resources and have targeted their resources on other things.”

UTW member David Barlow said the cabdrivers turned to a lawsuit as a last resort. “We’ve been talking with cab companies, talking to city agencies, talking to the Board of Supervisors, trying to get some action on the health plan,” Barlow said. “It just has not born any fruit so far and it’s finally enough.”

UTW attorney Jonathan Siegel said that if the lawsuit is successful they might go after the other San Francisco cab companies.

“Working toward health insurance could be a useful response to the lawsuit,” Siegel said. “People’s frustration has gotten us to this point.”

jsabatini@examiner.comBay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalPolitics

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