Taxi merger - Page 2

With big changes in store for taxicab regulation, drivers fear ulterior motives by city officials and industry executives

"We want a much greater and fairer representation on this Taxi Advisory Council," said driver and United Taxicab Workers chair Bud Hazelkorn. "Without that, all the issues that we bring will not be heard." Those issues include providing health care for drivers and creating a centralized dispatch system so fares are allocated more equitably. He pointed out that drivers are the only people in the system making all their income directly from fares. Everyone else in the industry gets slices from other pies.

And the existing provisions outlined by Prop. K may soon be a thing of the past.

Prop. A included language that allowed for the Taxi Commission merger and stated that once the MTA was in control, "Agency regulations shall thereafter supersede all previously adopted ordinances governing motor vehicles for hire that conflict with or duplicate such regulations."

During the 2007 election season, this was interpreted by the UTW and Judge Quentin Kopp, a former supervisor who authored Prop. K, as possibly undermining the current medallion system. "The taxicabs CEOs have tried EIGHT times to undo Prop. K, failing each time as voters upheld this good government measure," Kopp wrote in a paid ballot argument at the time. "Now encouraged by City Hall, Prop. A slips in a deceptive clause undoing 30 years of voter policy."

Back in 2007, when seeking the Guardian's endorsement for Prop. A, Peskin told us, "I have met with the mayor. The mayor has no desire, as do I, to undermine Prop. K, and what we would do if we ever were to transfer the Taxi Commission to MTA, we would transfer upon the condition that they adhere to and embrace by regulation all of the previously voter approved ordinances, such as Prop. K. So I think we have it handled."

Peskin said he reaffirmed that commitment in a letter, cosigned by Newsom, but neither office could locate a copy of that letter as of Guardian press time.

But at a Nov. 17 Government Audit and Oversight Committee meeting, Peskin asked MTA executive director Nathaniel Ford if it was his understanding that this merger was not to undermine Prop. K. "That is my understanding," said Ford. "I think it is important to all stakeholders."

Yet the interpretation is still correct. "The MTA will now have the authority to enact provisions that supersede Prop. K," City Attorney's Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey told the Guardian.

This past summer, the Taxi Commission established a Charter Reform Workgroup with a primary goal of reviewing Prop. K. The group is expected to meet for about six months with any recommendations subject to a citywide vote.

Although the workgroup has yet to release any specific statements regarding Prop. K, chairman Malcolm Heinecke believes it's already making strides simply by opening up public discourse among citizens, companies, medallion holders, and drivers.

"One of the problems with the taxi industry and discussions of reform is that they are very insular," said Heinecke, who is also an MTA board member. "I believe we have a balanced group of voices [in the group]."

Heinecke said he thinks varied stakeholders are essential because of broad dissatisfaction with Prop. K. "You hear everyone — both inside and outside the industry — bemoaning some aspect of Prop. K. It's a system we've had in place for 30 years; rather than just say it's bad and not do anything, [the goal of the workgroup] is to look at where we are and revise."

While it may be true that no one is satisfied, that hardly means members of the factional workgroup agree on how exactly Prop. K should be changed. For some, the problem begins with issues of representation. Not everyone agrees with Heinecke that this is a "balanced group." Of 12 members, there are just three drivers and three members of the public, with the rest representatives from the upper echelons of the industry.