San Francisco is promoting instability by allowing its flawed “S” medallion program to continue. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco is promoting instability by allowing its flawed “S” medallion program to continue. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco’s medallion program and the damage done

I reported to work on April 1 to find that my assigned car (S-10) was not available because The City had just recalled its medallion. This was not an April Fool’s joke. In fact, The City had just recalled all the “S” medallions. It wasn’t a big deal for me personally. I didn’t hold an S medallion; the cashier simply gave me a different car and medal.

For anyone who was unfortunate enough to have been holding an S medallion, then this is a big deal. The S medallion program started four years ago as a way for drivers who had been in the industry a long time to have some financial security in their old age. It was for people who had neglected to put their names on the medallion waiting list and thus receive a regular medallion.

At the onset of the program, I was opposed to it. I figured these people should have simply put their name on the list like I did, and I was opposed to making concessions for their neglect. The fact of the matter is that once San Francisco initiated the S medallion program, it was obligated to conduct it properly.

Unfortunately, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has ended this program improperly.

To shut this program down properly, The City should have stopped issuing S medallions and let the remaining medallions return and be canceled as old timers left the industry or died. It is highly immoral for The City to lead people on and then pull the rug out from under them. The City is promoting instability.

I happen to have a couple of friends who had their S medallions taken. One of them has serious health problems, two kids and big medical bills. Is San Francisco going to pay his bills for him?

My fellow Luxor driver and friend, Ernesto, and I started driving cabs with the old DeSoto (now Flywheel) back in the mid-1990s. Ernesto bought a medallion some years ago. Although I was offered one, I declined. Woe be unto he who trusts this government.

At first it was a decent deal. When the medallion sales program started back in 2010, Ernesto’s monthly loan payments were about $1,500, but the checks he got every month from the taxicab company were about $2,300. He was scoring an extra $800 per month. That was good for him because he, too, has kids and staked his entire financial future on this thing.

Somewhere around a year ago, Luxor had to cut monthly medallion payments down to $1,900 per month. Because the monthly loan payment remained constant, Ernesto was still netting an extra $400. But the real whammy came about six months ago, when Luxor was forced to lower monthly medallion holder payments down to a mere $1,000. The loan payments are still $1,500 per month.

Now, Ernesto has to come up with an extra $500 per month just to hold his medallion. For what? So he can keep losing $500 every month? Factoring in all the interest, fees and taxes, this deal is a loser in the short-term and long-term.

And hundreds of other people are in a similar situation.

Uber has sucked so much money out of our industry that now there isn’t a sufficient amount to go around. And who allows Uber to operate? Who has created a situation where people are suckered into a deal that loses money and ruins their lives? Who has created a situation of general depravity in our industry?

The City of San Francisco, that’s who. In fact, the medallion sales program started the same year The City began allowing Uber to operate here as a multi-national taxicab company.

A taxicab medallion is supposed to be something that lets people experience the American dream. Instead, cab drivers are being forced to experience the San Francisco nightmare. Monthly loan payment amounts exceeding monthly medallion holder payment amounts inevitably equals medallion loan defaults.

The last time I spoke with the SFMTA deputy director of taxis, she told me there was a backlog of 500 people waiting to sell their medallions due to a lack of readily available buyers, but there had been no loan defaults. That was six months ago. I recently asked for an update and learned the current backlog of sellers now stands at 766 medallion holders.

That’s 266 more in just six months. The number of transfers (sales) since October stands at a mere 19. I’m surprised anybody is buying these things. In fact, in the last two months, the SFMTA has transferred a grand total of only three taxicab medallions.

The real kicker, though, is the fact that since October of last year, there have been five taxicab medallion loan defaults. Five doesn’t sound like a big number, but what this number represents is huge.

Five medallion loan defaults represents the utter financial ruination of five lives and probably the lives of their families. It means the San Francisco taxicab medallion sales program is now officially dysfunctional. It is a big, stinking failure.

I’m told the SFMTA deputy director is requesting a study of the medallion sales program — little consolation to the people who have had their lives ruined.

On top of the loss of funds for the taxicab bureaucracy, The City is missing out on the millions of dollars per year they were stealing in direct violation of the state law, which says government regulatory agencies need to reinvest any monies they take in above the cost of regulation. There’s no more money to steal. Plus, they are compromising themselves legally by not enforcing the law that says one needs a license to operate a taxicab in the city of San Francisco.

Taxicabs embody best practices, while Uber promotes economic depravity. The city of San Francisco should ditch Uber, Lyft and all their ilk and apply app technology to the already existing taxicab industry. Resulting from an open and fair bidding process, the people of San Francisco should get an official taxicab dispatch application, and The City should maintain an adequate number of taxicabs while properly overseeing all other aspects of the industry. That is what produces a prosperous taxicab industry and provides San Franciscans with the highest possible quality of life. Anything else is simply corruption.

Peter A. Kirby is a San Francisco cab driver.DeSotoFlywheelPeter KirbySan FranciscoSFMTAtaxitransportation

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