(Cindy Chew/S.F. Examiner)

Taxi drivers consider legal action after SFO limits free speech activities

San Francisco taxi drivers are calling on San Francisco International Airport officials to rescind a new rule adopted last week that they say prohibits their free speech.

Last Tuesday, the Airport Commission voted to change its rules to limit where taxi drivers are allowed to pass out leaflets at the airport’s parking garages and taxi staging lots. Under the new rule, taxi drivers would only be allowed to exercise free speech activities at a picnic table area within the lot.

Commissioners reasoned that leaflet passing and other free speech activities in areas where vehicles are moving presented a safety concern.

According to the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance, the practice of taxi drivers distributing materials, collecting signatures for petitions and other free speech activities has been going on for decades at the airport.

“This is a clear violation of drivers’ free speech rights as guaranteed by our federal and state constitutions,” Mark Gruberg, a member of the taxi alliance, said in a statement Sunday. “Since it was approved on the same day as the MTA’s drastic plan to ban most cabs from SFO, one has to wonder if it isn’t part of concerted attempted to stifle drivers’ voices at a critical time.”

Taxi drivers received an additional blow last Tuesday when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors also voted to reform the city’s taxicab medallion system, limiting the types of taxi medallions authorized to operate at the airport.

In response to the airport commission’s vote, Gruberg said, “Confining us to picnic tables is ridiculous … The lots hold over 400 cabs. Maybe three or four drivers are at the picnic tables at any given time.”

On Monday, Gruberg said the taxi alliance is considering its next steps in regards to the new rules adopted both by the airport commission and the SFMTA board, including possible legal action.

“This is going to be a struggle, we are going to fight these until we get some relief,” he said.

-Daniel Montes, Bay City NewsTransit

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