S.F. cabbies criticize transit measure

A November ballot measure that could give the city’s transportation agency authority to regulate the taxicab industry has riled a group of cabdrivers and the maker of a 30-year- old law that cracked down on the use of cabdriver permits.

Proposition A, introduced by Board of Supervisor President Aaron Peskin, is billed as a measure to fix Muni and would sink millions into the transit system, which is overseen by the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency.

When it was put on the ballot by the board in July, there was little discussion of a provision in the measure that would allow the supervisors to adopt an ordinance abolishing the San Francisco Taxicab Commission and hand over control of the taxi industry, including fares and driver permits, to the MTA.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who supported the ballot measure, said, “We should have one entity that should be coordinating the transportation work.”

After recently learning of the provision, the United Taxicab Workers, a union representing hundreds of city cabdrivers, is speaking out against the measure. So is Mara Kopp, wife of former supervisor Quentin Kopp, who authored Proposition K, a measure voters approved in 1978 that regulated how permits to drive cabs can be used, in an effort to crack down on abuse. UTW chair Thomas George-Williams called the provision “a little Trojan horse” that was purposefully kept under the radar.

George-Williams argued that since the regulations were approved by the voters, the MTA should not have the sole power to change them. He said he worries that the MTA board of directors, who are not elected officials but appointees, would wind up catering to the interests of taxicab companies and some permit holders who have long pushed to undo the regulations. He also worries about handing over decisions to increase fares to the MTA board. Currently, proposed changes in taxi fares undergo public hearings by the Taxicab Commission and need approval by the Board of Supervisors, whose members are directly accountable to the public.

“I was the author of Prop. K. I led successfully the campaigns against the eight efforts to repeal or tweak it at the ballot box, which speaks for itself,” said Quentin Kopp, who, being a judge, is restricted from commenting on the issue. Mara Kopp has submitted a paid ballot argument against Proposition A.

Elsbernd said opponents of this provision are making “a mountain out of a molehill” and assume that the MTA would adopt changes to Proposition K. Elsbernd also dismissed concerns about having the MTA set fares. “It has never been a problem for Muni fares. Why should it be a problem for taxi fares?”

Nathan Ballard, spokesman for Mayor Gavin Newsom, said, “The mayor has long been in favor of the merger of the Taxi Commission under the MTA.”

Peskin was unavailable for comment.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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