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Regulating or Profiteering?


On February 26, 2010, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors approved the Medallion Sales Pilot Program which allowed medallion holders 65 or older, or permanently disabled, to sell their medallions at a fixed price of $250,000 to the next eligible driver on the waiting list. Under this plan, the SFMTA could also sell up to 60 medallions outright, and issue an equal number of medallions to drivers at the top of the waiting list as "earned".


As part of the pilot program, a Taxi Advisory Council (TAC) was formed to monitor the effects of the program on the industry.  The TAC was also instructed to make recommendations for a more permanent medallion reform. 


The same day that the TAC report was finally scheduled to be heard however, the SFMTA Board decided to vote on their own proposal, which takes an estimated $14 million a year from the taxi industry by selling or leasing medallions that have for the last 35 years gone to qualified veteran cab drivers. 


None of the projected revenue for the MTA will be used to improve taxi service, safety, or benefit the taxi industry in any form.  It will however, deprive hundreds of veteran cab drivers of expected income toward the end of their careers.  It also removes incentive for quality drivers to stay in the industry.


In protest of the pre-determined MTA medallion reform plan, 7 of the 14 remaining members of the Taxi Advisory Council have resigned.





SFCDA Stops Legalization of Audio Recording in Taxis

                                 By Barry Korengold

The City of Los Angeles and the Taxicab Paratransit Association of California, sponsored Senate Bill 1534 this year that among other things, would have legalized mandated audio recording in taxicabs.  This bill was also supported by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

A bold group of drivers however, wrote letters and showed up at the hearing in Sacramento on May 8, and convinced lawmakers this was not a good idea.  The Senate Transportation and Housing Committee voted 7-1 to amend the bill so that audio was NOT to be included in any taxicab security cameras, and that the drivers, who are independent contractors and not employees, would maintain the right to turn them off if they so choose.  So recording conversations in taxis is STILL illegal, although some cab companies continue to do so.

Assembly Bill 1942 became law January 1, 2011.  It amended California Vehicle Code 26708, which relates to objects placed in the windshield of a motor vehicle, to include "video event recorders".  Video event recorders record forward and rear facing (interior) video, audio, location, velocity and direction.


As California recording laws require the EXPRESSED permission of ALL parties before recording an audio conversation, as well as restrictions on video recording, these amendments provide certain privacy protections, such as granting the "registered owner or lessee of the vehicle" the right to disable this device (not damage it). 


It also stipulates that unless operated by the driver of the vehicle to record and store data continuously, a video event recorder shall only store video for the 30 seconds before and after an unusual motion triggered event, such as hard braking, swerving or a collision.  Yes, it's possible with today's technology to capture audio and video from before you hit the trigger.  This purpose serves to help determine fault in an accident.

Although most of us, including myself, like having a security camera, many of us feel mandatory audio or video surveillance in a taxicab would be an extreme intrusion on our privacy rights. In San Francisco and most of  California, cab drivers are not employees of either the city or the cab companies they drive for.  Most drive a cab largely because they don't like having a boss looking over their shoulder all day.  Well, with these new audio/video cams in SF taxis, guess what!


Yes of course, who has time to listen to or watch all the video, but just the knowledge that your conversation MIGHT be listened to by one of many possible unknown entities, has a chilling effect. According to SB 1534 as it was introduced, those unknown entities would have been cab company management, local regulatory staff (SFMTA) and law enforcement.  This digital information could have also been saved indefinitely.


Already, there have been several fairly well known accounts of cab company management reviewing this footage, not to establish fault in an accident, or to catch a criminal, but to scrutinize driver behavior.  Certain drivers who may have expressed views contrary to that of management may also be subject to closer scrutiny.  This might be fine and dandy if we were employees of the SFMTA or the cab companies, but in SF we are not, and still have privacy rights under California State Law.  At least for now.     

S. F. C. D. A.