‘Honking Mad’ Cabs Seek Hail Mary to Prevent Airport Ban

Hundreds of struggling cab drivers will be shut out of airport pickups — one of their last steady sources of business.

Scores of “honking mad” cabs, as organizers called them, circled City Hall on Thursday urging Mayor London Breed to call off an impending San Francisco International Airport ban for many struggling taxi drivers. 

In October, the SFTMA approved a plan to allow the just 560 drivers who bought the agency’s $250,000 medallions to pick up passengers at SFO. Last month, the Examiner reported that they included another 570 drivers who bought the medallions after 1978 to the list but hundreds of drivers will still be barred from accessing airport customers, their last remaining reliable source of revenue.

There are more than 1,400 medallions in service and more than 4,800 active taxi drivers, according to the SFMTA. No medallions have been sold since April 2016, 158 have been foreclosed on, and the agency is facing a lawsuit from the San Francisco Federal Credit Union, which put up $125 million in loans for more than medallions.

“They backstabbed us,” says Marcelo Fonseca, a taxi driver of 30 years and medallion holder, of the transportation agency. “They have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to buy those medallions back.”

Instead, the SFMTA reform that takes effect Feb. 1 is intended to ensure drivers paying the most for those medallions would have businesses and spreading the remaining cabs across the city, where less operate in recent times. Cab veterans could be limited from leasing medallions to new drivers, a retirement plan that no longer brings income.

But taxi drivers and companies aren’t accepting the new plan without a fight. As colorful taxi cabs drove passed the crowd, dozens of protesters submitted a letter to Breed asking for a hold on the new regulations for 60 days while she hears their concerns. 

“This is not an effective system,” said Peter Miller, of the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance union, to the crowd. “We need, at the very least, a level playing field.”

Drivers are particularly incensed that the city regulates taxi cabs far more than transportation network companies, which the California Public Utilities regulates. While the city declines to crack down on Uber and Lyft like New York did in August, cab drivers must pay SFMTA $250,000 to operate at the airport, where they are still able to compete.

Some city leaders agree. Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Ahsha Safaí, Matt Haney, and Aaron Peskin are backing a resolution on Tuesday to postpone implementation of the plan until a better solution is reached. 

“The idea that you would be putting the nail in the coffin of the taxi industry is the wrong way to go,” Safaí told the drivers. “We’re not going to allow this proposal to move forward.”

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