Saturday, August 6, 2011

MTA Board approved the two taxi items on its agenda

Yesterday, the MTA Board approved the two taxi items on its agenda: an additional 40 cents on the flag drop, and 87 more cabs. As a result, a meter increase bringing the flag drop to $3.50 and the distance and waiting time to 55 cents a click should go into effect around the beginning of September. The new cabs will probably take longer, especially if there is an appeal to the Board of Appeals (which seems likely).
The cab decision was exactly as had been proposed: 25 full-time medallions to the list; 10 full-time medallions to be sold directly by the MTA; a trial program for 50 single-operator permits (which could, however, have two operators); and aqn experiment with 2 battery-switchable electric vehicles.
Cab companies were out in force opposing the proposal for more cabs. Not that they were trying to save their drivers from added competition -- quite the contrary. Yellow, Luxor and DeSoto management have been pushing for 500 more cabs, with the permits going to companies rather than drivers. They want to kill single-operator permits because they can't make money from them, and because the SOPs (?) stand in the way of the corporate medallions companies want.
In my mind, these part-time permits are far preferable to full-time medallions. They'll be on the streets only about 1/3 the time, so they won't be hurting drivers during the slowest hours. There are some controversial aspects to the idea, however. The permits are to go to the most senior drivers in the industry, circumventing the list. The hours of operation will be flexible, which will best serve the public, but enforcement may be a problem. Retirement for permit holders is an open question. And, most ominously, a monthly lease fee will be charged for the permits. The fee can be reduced or eliminated by taking dispatched orders, but it sets a bad precedent, and creates a swamp of micro-regulation where the MTA is going to have to count every dispatch call these cabs take (or, more likely, rely on someone else's count). Nonetheless, I still believe this is better than hundreds of full-time permits in company hands. It's a trial program, so if parts of it turn out to be unfair or unworkable, they could be changed. And if the whole idea turns out to be a bust, it will go away.
Also ominous is the direct sale of 10 medallions by the MTA. At $250,000 apiece, the agency will pocket $2,375,000, with the balance of $125,000 going to the Driver Fund. This is a brand new source of revenue for the MTA. Up to now, the agency has directly sold only existing medallions returned to it after death or revocation. In light of the MTA's chronic financial problems, these 10 new medallions are only a hint of what is likely to come -- unless we do something about it, which we must. The MTA has a conflict of interest between its regulatory duties and its financial interests that cannot be allowed to stand.
Although the hearing lasted over an hour, driver turnout was not as robust as at previous meetings. It seemed that about half the public speakers were from cab companies. Maybe fatigue has set in.
The vote of the Board approving the cab proposal was 6-1. The "no" vote was cast by former Taxi Commissioner Bruce Oka. It appears the cab companies convinced him to take their side.
MTA staff did not discuss credit cards or electronic waybills at the meeting.
Mark Gruberg
United Taxicab Workers

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