Who's behind the wheel? - Page 2

Taxi permits, which give the holder a nice income, are only for active drivers. So what happens when a permit holder gets disabled?
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Under its current policy, temporarily disabled medallion holders can apply to take one year off every five years and receive a 120-day driving exemption in each of the three years following that disability leave.

But the lawsuit argues that this policy "effectively sanctions all taxicab permit/medallion holders with disabilities other than temporary illness that prevent or substantially limit their ability to drive taxi cabs personally."

The lawsuit argues that disabled permit holders, under the ADA, should be relieved of the full-time driving requirement until their disabilities are medically resolved. In the case of some drivers, that could effectively give them use of city-owned medallions free, for life.

TRICKY ENFORCEMENT

Prop. K was written by recently retired San Mateo Superior Court judge Quentin Kopp, who was then a city supervisor. Kopp told us that permits were being bought and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars and working drivers couldn't afford them. The system, which is fairly unusual, was designed to ensure that cabbies — not investors, corporations, or speculators — got the benefits of the city-owned permits.

So Prop. K required that a permit be returned to city and passed on to the next person on the long waiting list if the holder stops driving. Other large cities, such as New York, still maintain a system in which permits may be auctioned off instead of being publicly owned.

The 941 post–<\d>Prop. K medallion holders, Machen said, can receive $1,800 to $3,000 a month for leasing their permits. There are roughly 6,000 taxi drivers in the city; a full-time cab driver makes about $24,000 a year, but those full-timers with permits can add another $20,000 or more to their income by leasing.

"It's a city permit. If someone stops using it, it reverts to the city," Kopp told us. "There's no provision for a grace period or something of that sort. Seven times voters rejected efforts to appeal or change it."

In fact, in 2003 voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would have allowed disabled drivers to keep their permits.

Elliott Myles of Oakland's Myles Law Firm, which handles disability cases, told us that Prop. K is "irrelevant."

"The obligation to modify or waive comes from the ADA, a federal law binding on the commission," he wrote in an e-mail.

Although Kopp says Prop. K was intended to ensure that only active drivers get permits, the 800-hours-a-year rule isn't in the law. Specific driving rules were added to the city's Police Code in 1988.

And enforcement of the law has changed in the past few years. When the Taxicab Commission revoked the medallion of disabled driver Querida Mia Rivera in 2003, the decision was overturned by the Board of Appeals on the grounds that it violated the rights of Rivera — who had driven for 35 years before needing a wheelchair and becoming legally blind — under the ADA.

In response to the reversal, then-director Naomi Little implemented a policy to accommodate both temporarily and permanently disabled medallion holders, which paralleled the city's catastrophic-injury program. This meant the modification or waiver of the 800 hours was overseen by the Department of Public Health.

"A disabled permit holder may apply for a waiver or reduction of the driving requirement, and the waiver or reduction, in appropriate cases, may be renewed on a yearly basis," Little wrote in a memorandum to Sup. Jake McGoldrick on July 30, 2003.

But in February 2006 the Taxicab Commission adopted Resolution 2006-28, which returned the city to the policy of strictly following the letter of Prop.

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