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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Taxi Drivers Protest at City Hall

Posted By on Tue, Jun 21, 2011 at 5:45 PM

click to enlarge Showing Muni drivers how it's done - TAYLOR FRIEDMAN
  • Taylor Friedman
  • Showing Muni drivers how it's done
At City Hall this afternoon, there was honking -- lots of honking. Taxi drivers shouted and chanted as they circled Civic Center protesting, among other things, higher credit card fees.

Taxi driver Tariq Mehmood, who organized the protest, estimated that about 500 of the city's 7,000 drivers showed up to the event, which certainly got the attention of city supervisors.

Some cabbies drove by and honked to show support, while others stopped, got out of their cabs, and slapped a "STRIKE" sign on their  dashboards. They then walked over to join the group of cab drivers holding signs. One of these depicted a cow, a signal that drivers feel they are cash cows for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

They were there to challenge the proposed 5 percent fee for credit card transactions that taxi drivers have to pay on each fare as well as the unpopular plan to install TVs in cars to bring in advertising revenue. Moreover, they do not want the SFMTA to use a waybill system, which would track drivers and the details of their fares. 

All of that piled onto already contentious issues, including meter rates and the medallion system, gave taxi drivers enough ammunition for a strike.

"The SFMTA sees us as nothing but a revenue stream," said Brad Newsham, who has been driving cabs for 25 years.

His colleagues share this sentiment. Mark Gruberg, spokesman of the United Taxicab Workers, said SFMTA should give taxi drivers the same benefits as Muni operators if it is going to start heavily regulating cabs.

"Every time they have a financial need, they dip out of our pockets," Gruberg said.

Did you have trouble catching a cab today? - TAYLOR FRIEDMAN
  • Taylor Friedman
  • Did you have trouble catching a cab today?
Mehmood said some drivers were willing to protest longer than the two-hour strike; some were even willing to strike for days. Yet he ended the protest by 2 p.m., so drivers would not lose any more money than they already had.

Mehmood is a divisive figure among San Francisco's cab drivers. Some want to distance themselves from his abrasive style (check out his shouting matches with SFMTA's Christiane Hayashi), while others credit the native Pakistani for mobilizing foreign drivers.

Not everyone was on board with today's strike. For one, it coincided with the Board of Supervisors' Summer Learning Day. That clearly flustered Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose voice was drowned out by the honking as he addressed a swarm of students on the steps of City Hall.

"Their selfishness will not go unnoticed," Mirkarimi said. "This is about families and children."

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has been sympathetic to taxi drivers in town, suddenly dashed across the street -- away from the protest.

He told SF Weekly, "The behavior by some of the cab drivers is disrespectful. ... They're disrupting the kids and a daycare center down the street. I sympathize with their grievances about the credit card fee, but this is not the right way to do it."

Wiener, who has expressed his own frustrations with the challenges of catching a cab in San Francisco, couldn't help but point out the irony -- finally there were too many cabs on the same corner.

"I'm glad to see they're here," he said with a little tongue-in-cheek.

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