On Feb. 26, the cab industry changes, radically

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The San Francisco taxi industry will undergo a major change starting Feb. 26, when the Municipal Transportation Agency is expected to adopt a complete transformation of how cab medallions -- the permits needed to operate a taxi in the city -- are allocated. You can read the proposal here. In essence, it would allow cab medallions -- which are now allocated to individual drivers on the basis of seniority on a waiting list -- to be sold on the open market.

It's a tricky proposition. But the mayor appoints the MTA board, and the mayor wants this -- both to help with the city's budget problems and because, well, he's always supported privatization of some public assets, and that's what this proposal amounts to.

And here's a little stinker that's part of the deal: The MTA currently has 30 of the valuable medallions just sitting around in a desk. Those are permits that could be issued to the top 30 drivers on the waiting list -- many of whom have been driving for 15 years or so while they slowly rose to the top of the list.

Instead, if the proposal passes, those medallions -- or at least some of them -- will be sold off, over the counter, at prices that could reach $400,000.

Judson True, the MTA's spokesperson, confirmed that there were 30 unallocated permits on hand right now and that at least half would likely be sold at market rate. The MTA is budgeting $15 million for direct permit sales.

So if you're, say, number 16 on the waiting list, and 15 people ahead of you get permits that are currently available -- and the next 15 are sold, and you can't afford it -- you're SOL. Until someone else dies and another permit comes up -- unless that permit is sold, too.