Cab Drivers Sue SFMTA Over SFO Restrictions

The lawsuit claims that the SFMTA is trying to boost the value of its $250,000 medallions to weaken another legal challenge.

A taxi driver helps a passenger load their bags at San Francisco International Airport. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Taxi drivers and companies sued the SFMTA on Wednesday to halt new restrictions at San Francisco International Airport, the group announced Thursday.

The San Francisco Taxi Coalition, Alliance Cab, Town Taxi, and three individual cab drivers filed the complaint in San Francisco Superior Court on Wednesday, alleging constitutional violations of due process and equal protection regarding a new SFTMA policy. In February, the transit agency began limiting cab drivers who could pick up passengers at SFO to roughly 1,000 drivers who own medallions. 

That leaves out scores of struggling cab drivers using SFO as a lifeline. More than 1,400 medallions are in service and there are more than 4,800 active cab drivers, according to the SFMTA. 

“We’d like to see the SFMTA actually look out for the industry and individuals in the industry for once,” says Yellow Cab CEO Chris Sweis. “The government should really be making regulations around sound public policy.”

When the plan was approved in October, just the 560 drivers who bought the SFTMA’s $250,000 medallions would have been allowed at SFO. They later added another 570 drivers who obtained medallions after 1978. But drivers refused to be divided and have protested the plan several times by honking and circling City Hall.

They urged Mayor London Breed to intervene but the SFMTA proceeded with their plans. The lawsuit now claims violations of equal protection for favoring drivers that own the $250,000 medallions in an attempt to weaken another legal challenge.

About 160 medallions have been foreclosed on and none have been sold since 2016. The San Francisco Federal Credit Union, which put up $125 million in loans for the medallions, filed a lawsuit in 2018.

Age discrimination is also a factor. The SFMTA plan favors younger medallion holders and keeps out drivers who are more than 70 years old, the lawsuit alleges. And because of wasted trips, it’s also claiming it violates the California Environmental Quality Act. 

The coalition is seeking a preliminary injunction within weeks to put the plan on hold.

“SFMTA has done little or nothing to encourage increased taxi ridership and also ignores the elephant in the room — tens of thousands of lightly regulated Transportation Network Company (TNC) vehicles such as Uber and Lyft,” the San Francisco Taxi Coalition said in a statement.

The City Attorney’s Office disagrees, telling the Examiner that the SFTMA has been proactive to help the industry.

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