Taxi drivers honk as other drivers and supporters rally before a hearing on the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority taxi medallion reform proposal at City Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

SF scales back airport taxi ban

The City is scaling back a plan to ban most types of cabs from San Francisco International Airport that was pitched in October as a way to help save the struggling taxi industry.

Under the first plan, only cabbies using the existing 560 taxi permits, or “medallions,” purchased through the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for roughly $250,000, would be allowed to pick up passengers from SFO.

That would have left some 900 other drivers with medallions, some of whom obtained them in previous decades for free, barred from picking up passengers at SFO.

SFMTA hoped that would concentrate more SFO trips, and profit, with those who spent the most money for their medallions and who are struggling the most, while simultaneously causing more taxis to circulate in San Francisco proper, where they’ve been scarce of late.

In the face of objections from taxi drivers, however, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is now pulling back that ban, just a bit.

The agency will allow an additional 570 medallion holders who obtained their permits after 1978 access to SFO, in what SFMTA called a “compromise” measure in an email to the taxi industry sent Thursday.

Cabbies who hold “purchased” medallions will still be given priority for pickups at the airport, however.

Cabbies feared the new plan, like the previous proposal, would empty the wallets of industry veterans who drove for years and now lease their medallions to newer drivers as a retirement plan.

“This will hurt the older medallion holders and the color schemes,” said Carl Macmurdo, president of the Medallion Holders Association.

There are a total of 1,450 medallions in service today, according to SFMTA, across 4,800 drivers. So, essentially, in its new plan SFMTA will still ban some taxis from SFO — they’re just scaling back how many.

SFMTA held outreach meetings after introducing the taxi plan in October where the idea proved somewhat unpopular among the medallion holders who would be cut out, taxi professionals told the San Francisco Examiner.

“Based on the feedback received,” SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato said, “staff developed compromise rules.”

Some taxi professionals also worry that since certain medallions will not be allowed priority at the airport, taxi companies will have fewer drivers applying to work for them, since driving in The City is difficult and requires years of practice to perfect.

“The preference for purchased medallions means far fewer trips from the airport for all the other drivers,” said Barry Taranto, a board member of the Taxi Workers Alliance. “It means many shifts will go unfilled.”

As part of the new rules, taxi operators must affix decals to their cabs to denote which type of medallions they hold. SFMTA said it may further restrict access to the airport for non-purchased medallion holders should SFO congestion increase.

The plan begins Feb. 1, 2019.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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