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SF taxi medallions now up for sale

Got $300,000? Awesome. Now, hand it over, and in exchange I’ll give you a thankless job working with a disrespectful public for menial wages with no benefits.

If that sounds good to you, then get in line at the Municipal Transit Agency Association to purchase a San Francisco taxi medallion.

A taxi medallion is a little metal plate that sits on the dash of S.F. taxis and spits out cash. It’s a license to operate a single taxicab in San Francisco 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

After decades of being doled out to long-time drivers who spent years on a waiting list, taxi medallions are now for sale. The MTA made permanent on Tuesday a prior “pilot” plan in place since 2010 that had sold medallions for $250,000.

The MTA adjusted the pilot program by boosting the fees it takes off the top from all medallion sales. The agency will now collect one-third of all revenue from medallion sales, and 20 percent from transferred medallions.

The new system should benefit existing medallion holders, who now have a valuable asset they can sell or transfer.

Who gets screwed, though, are many of the 1,429 taxi drivers who have been waiting years on a list that is now, at best, a ticket to decades of debt paying off the purchase price of a medallion.

Tara Housman, medallion holder and — until last Monday — a member of the MTA’s Taxi Advisory Council, told The Ex:

“I’m incredibly disappointed. This is a kick in the teeth to every driver on the waiting list.”

Housman and seven other members of the Taxi Advisory Council resigned last week in protest over the plan. In her letter of resignation, Housman described the plan approved on Tuesday as:

“… a cunning, cutthroat, and cold-hearted piece of legislation which totally circumvents not only the efforts we have put forth, but which has, so far, never even been mentioned at a Taxi Advisory Council meeting, much less vetted.”

Barry Korengold, president of the San Francisco Cab Drivers Association and former vice-chair of the Council, also resigned, calling his three years on the council a “waste of time”:

“… it has become clear to me that the TAC is being used to help the MTA appear as though there’s a legitimate process, when in reality, our concerns are ignored. …I do not wish to continue being part of this facade.”

From 1978 to 2009, San Francisco medallions were doled out under the terms of the voter-approved Proposition K.

Prop. K created the now-abolished waiting list system, intended to provide medallions to working drivers.

For more than a decade, City leaders have lusted over monetizing taxi medallions. In 2004, Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez drafted legislation — which went nowhere at the time — that would have permitted The City to sell medallions.

Fast forward to 2007, when City voters passed Proposition A, which included language voiding all prior taxi regulations. The MTA was given a blank slate to rewrite the rules.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Aaron Peskin backed Prop. A in 2007. Peskin was asked at the time by the Bay Guardian about the sanctity of Prop. K:

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.”

Handled, indeed. Less than five years later, The City’s long sought-after revenue stream from the taxi business has been realized.

Millions of dollars will now flow into City coffers each year, financed on the backs of drivers, many of whom will now be locked in to a long-term loan just to protect their livelihood and hold on to a lousy job.

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