Medallion plan seeks cash for city coffers

A new proposal to change the way San Francisco’s coveted taxi medallions are distributed aims to improve service, but also generate income for The City, according to an advocate of the plan.

The cab industry, however, has historically been sensitive to changes.

The system for doling out taxi medallions, which permit a driver to work in The City, has been in place for decades. Drivers wait for years to obtain the limited number of medallions, of which there are only 1,500.

Most are generally in the hands of older drivers who eventually begin leasing them out to others, although medallion holders are supposed to meet an annual driving requirement to legally hold on to them.

There are currently 3,000 names on a wait-list for a medallion, with 1,700 who signed up more than 10 years ago.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which took control of oversight of The City’s taxi industry in March, has released a proposal for what to do with the medallions when a driver retires.

Medallion holders would be allowed to retire at 65 years old and still make money from their medallion without having to meet the driving requirement. The City would, however, retrieve the medallion and lease it to a cab company. The lease payments would be split 50-50 between The City and the retired driver. Companies would bid on the lease.

A medallion is estimated to be worth $3,000 a month. Three hundred retirees would generate $5.4 million annually for the transit agency.

The more than 2,800 drivers who signed up on the permit wait-list more than five years ago would remain in line to receive medallions if a holder dies or gives theirs up. After that, the list would be closed.

Transit agency Director Malcolm Heinicke, who helped draft the proposal, said the changes would achieve three main objectives: improve service, allow older medallion holders to get off the road and generate significant revenue for city coffers.

Mark Gruberg, a longtime driver speaking on behalf of the United Taxicab Workers, a group representing some cabbies, said it was still an unpopular proposal.

“I think it’s skewed heavily against drivers,” he said.

Nathan Ballard, a spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, called the new proposal “a starting point.”

It’s expected to undergo public hearings.

A final proposal would require approval by the transit agency’s board of directors.

Earlier this year, Newsom announced a plan to auction off medallions to the highest bidder. The proposal was met with fierce opposition and later abandoned.


Voters may weigh in on industry overhaul

A group of cab drivers upset about proposed changes to the medallion system for The City’s taxi industry want voters to have the final say.

Barry Korengold, who’s president of the recently formed San Francisco Cab Drivers Association, is leading a charge to place a charter amendment on the June ballot to prohibit The City from implementing dramatic changes to how the coveted permits are doled out.

Medallion holders can lease them out to other drivers.

If approved by voters, the existing permit system would remain in place, but with some changes. The charter amendment would take away a provision that requires medallion holders to keep driving if they want to hold on to their permit, even if they reach retirement age.

Korengold is currently going through the process to be able to start a signature campaign to place it on the ballot.

He said a new proposal would “eventually phase out medallion holders altogether.” It recommends that The City assume control of permits when drivers retire, then lease them out and split the profits with the retirees.

The plan would “lower the quality of drivers” since they would no longer have a financial stake in the industry, Korengold said.

Cab driver Mark Gruberg — a member of another industry organization, United Taxicab Workers — said Korengold’s charter amendment does little to help drivers who never obtain a medallion.

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