With Filner Out, City Spins Its Wheels On Taxi Reform

With Filner Out, City Spins Its Wheels On Taxi Reform

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Former Mayor Bob Filner put the wheels in motion for the city to take over the taxicab industry and improve oversight. But a proposal by interim mayor Todd Gloria to enter into a long-term contract with current taxi regulator MTS could bring that work to a halt.

Taxi drivers rallied at the Metropolitan Transit System board meeting Thursday. They’re angry the city appears to be backing away from a promise to reform what drivers say are poverty wages and unsafe working conditions.

Under Filner, the City Council agreed to put a stay on any new contract negotiations for a year and spend $100,000 to study whether the city could regulate the taxi industry. That money was never spent and, in November, Gloria initiated a five-year contract with MTS.

In a letter to MTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski, Gloria says the city’s exploration of the issue “has concluded.”

The MTS executive committee then passed a draft contract last week. Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who sits on the committee, cast the lone opposition vote.

The contract moved to the MTS Board Thursday, where Emerald, who’s also a board member, successfully tabled the final MTS vote until next year. Councilwoman Myrtle Cole seconded the motion.

“The Council and the mayor need to sit down and hash out a few details with regard to the proposed contract and the negotiations and confer with the city attorney just a little while longer,” Emerald said in the meeting.

In his letter to MTS, Gloria says he’d like to draft a contract that will address findings from a series of meetings between taxi drivers and cab company owners this summer. Gloria’s deputy chief of staff, Katie Keach, said he’s not opposed to a shorter contract and that industry reform “should proceed no matter who it’s under.”

In May, taxi drivers who lease their vehicles from cab companies spoke out against what they call exploitation by owners and lax oversight by MTS. A study by San Diego State University and the Center on Policy Initiatives, which advocates for labor, found drivers earn an average of $4.45 an hour after they pay for gas and their car leases. They work an average of 71 hours a week to cover their costs.

MTS currently does not regulate wages and work hours and does not cap lease prices like other major cities.

About 600 cab company owners formed the San Diego Transportation Association to counter claims made by drivers and their union, United Taxi Workers of San Diego. They say the study’s findings are false.

“There’s not a lack of individuals who want to drive taxicabs,” said Michel Anderson, who represents the transportation association. “There’s not a lack because there’s money to be made. Lease drivers are independent contractors and obviously there’s an excellent opportunity to make money.”

Photo by Megan Burks

Photo by Megan Burks

Taxicab drivers held signs protesting a proposed contract between the city and Metropolitan Transit System for taxi industry oversight. Cab company owners were also present to support the contract.

An MTS draft of the proposed contract would keep MTS from weighing in on working conditions. It states MTS will not “be required to regulate the business relationship between taxicab permit holders and their subcontractors/lease drivers” and that “MTS shall not be required to engaged in the following activities: investigating and resolving contract disputes … setting contract terms … investigating and/or adjudicating allegations of retaliation … regulating working hours and/or earnings.”

If passed at MTS, the contract would go to City Council, which could propose changes.

United Taxi Workers representative Sarah Saez said passing a contract that doesn’t regulate dealings between drivers and owners would reinforce a culture of 16-hour workdays, which pose risks to consumers.

“For them to say they refuse to regulate those things, we believe it’s a public safety concern,” Saez said. “So entering into a long-term contract with those provisions, we think it not only affects drivers, it affects the public.”

Anderson said a five-year contract is needed so regulators can address other issues — like competition from new rideshare companies Lyft and Uber.

“We need to get this settled here, because neither MTS or [sic] the city of San Diego will address these other issues until we find out who indeed will be the taxicab administrator.”

MTS will revisit the contract Jan. 16.

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Megan Burks

Megan Burks

Megan Burks is a reporter for Speak City Heights, a media project of Voice of San Diego, KPBS, Media Arts Center and The AjA Project. You can contact her directly at meburks@kpbs.org or 619.550.5665.

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21 comments
Walt Brewer
Walt Brewer

There is ggreat opportunity for significat expansion of taxicab use insted of spaending $ billion mass transit.
SANDAG's long range Regional Transportation Plan for 2050 showes added mass transit will cost well over $2 per passenger-mile; getting close to retail taxi, and the up and down nature of its random passenger demand.

And finally non-drivers would get the on-demand service the vast majority of travelers want and need. And the impact on even commuter traffic will hardly be noticed.

Walt Brewer
Walt Brewer subscribermember

There is ggreat opportunity for significat expansion of taxicab use insted of spaending $ billion mass transit.
SANDAG's long range Regional Transportation Plan for 2050 showes added mass transit will cost well over $2 per passenger-mile; getting close to retail taxi, and the up and down nature of its random passenger demand.

And finally non-drivers would get the on-demand service the vast majority of travelers want and need. And the impact on even commuter traffic will hardly be noticed.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

What about crash rates by hours worked each day?

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster

This is disconcerting. The drivers seem to have brought valid concerns forward that suggested some reform is needed. Working 16 hours straight, if that's the case, is nuts, whether you are sitting in a cab most of the time or not; and customers are likely to bear a burden for that in terms of service and safety.

It seems rather clear that in response to these concerns being raised, the cab company owners launched a major lobbying offensive with the representation of Mr. Anderson (a very long time political player in town) that resulted in a proposal that: 1) There will be no changes at all; and 2) the MTS would be prevented from even considering the propriety of making changes, even if in the public interest (i.e. safety). In effect, keep having the entity who has presided over the problems run the show, but also make sure that if MTS wakes up and shows some sense of responsibility, they can't act.

Mr. Gloria ought to be ashamed, but he is too busy basking in the glory of being a Democrat who is loved by entrenched business interests.

Chris Brewster
Chris Brewster subscribermember

This is disconcerting. The drivers seem to have brought valid concerns forward that suggested some reform is needed. Working 16 hours straight, if that's the case, is nuts, whether you are sitting in a cab most of the time or not; and customers are likely to bear a burden for that in terms of service and safety.

It seems rather clear that in response to these concerns being raised, the cab company owners launched a major lobbying offensive with the representation of Mr. Anderson (a very long time political player in town) that resulted in a proposal that: 1) There will be no changes at all; and 2) the MTS would be prevented from even considering the propriety of making changes, even if in the public interest (i.e. safety). In effect, keep having the entity who has presided over the problems run the show, but also make sure that if MTS wakes up and shows some sense of responsibility, they can't act.

Mr. Gloria ought to be ashamed, but he is too busy basking in the glory of being a Democrat who is loved by entrenched business interests.

Dan Butler
Dan Butler

Maybe less taxis and lower fares would help the situation. When a 10 min cab ride from the airport to Park Blvd and El Cajon Blvd cost $20.00 something is wrong. And i see no reason why I should have to unload my own luggage from the trunk..Whatever happened to cab service?

Dan Butler
Dan Butler subscriber

Maybe less taxis and lower fares would help the situation. When a 10 min cab ride from the airport to Park Blvd and El Cajon Blvd cost $20.00 something is wrong. And i see no reason why I should have to unload my own luggage from the trunk..Whatever happened to cab service?

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Is there any evidence to support the claim that 16 hour workdays is a public safety concern? The trucking industry is regulated because it's easy to fall asleep behind the wheel on long, boring stretches of road, but taxis usually stick to local roads. And because taxis are often idle, taxi drivers can take power naps which the Mythbusters confirmed keeps you alert (see link below).MythBusters (2013 season) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_%282013_season%29#Crab_NappingThe cast of the television series MythBusters perform experiments to verify or debunk urban legends, old wives' tales, and the like. This is a list of the various myths tested on the show as well as the results of the experiments (the myth is Busted,...

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Is there any evidence to support the claim that 16 hour workdays is a public safety concern? The trucking industry is regulated because it's easy to fall asleep behind the wheel on long, boring stretches of road, but taxis usually stick to local roads. And because taxis are often idle, taxi drivers can take power naps which the Mythbusters confirmed keeps you alert (see link below).MythBusters (2013 season) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MythBusters_%282013_season%29#Crab_NappingThe cast of the television series MythBusters perform experiments to verify or debunk urban legends, old wives' tales, and the like. This is a list of the various myths tested on the show as well as the results of the experiments (the myth is Busted,...

Sarah Saez
Sarah Saez

You're welcome. Hopefully you'll remind him or her nicely =) It's not an easy job.

Dan Butler
Dan Butler

Thanks Sarah, I'll remind the driver the next time he pops the trunk and doesn't get out of the cab. :)

Sarah Saez
Sarah Saez

As for the luggage, drivers are required to remove your luggage unless they have a disability that does not allow them to do so.

Sarah Saez
Sarah Saez

The fares are high because of the amounts drivers are being charged to lease the cabs. The costs they have to pay are passed on to the customers.

Dan Butler
Dan Butler subscriber

Thanks Sarah, I'll remind the driver the next time he pops the trunk and doesn't get out of the cab. :)

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Wow, a lot wrong with that report. It is clearly written to ignore data and lead a conclusion. Commissioned by TA, a left wing group, and written by an organization for whom I can find only left wing research? Really...

Table 1 they conclude that owners have less crashes than long term leasers who have less crashes than short term leasers because of pay, but they don't show any support for that conclusion. I think common sense tells us that if you own something you care for it more than if you lease it. Also owners are more likely to be responsible people since they can afford the credit and bonding to start their company. Leasers only need a CDL.

Table 2 is missing 50% of relevant data, but somehow the conclusion is that pay is the issue. Hmmmm. Even if they produced all the data, and it supported the claim all that shows is correlation, not causality, and they didn't even baseline against non taxi crashes.

This report is garbage.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Wow, a lot wrong with that report. It is clearly written to ignore data and lead a conclusion. Commissioned by TA, a left wing group, and written by an organization for whom I can find only left wing research? Really...

Table 1 they conclude that owners have less crashes than long term leasers who have less crashes than short term leasers because of pay, but they don't show any support for that conclusion. I think common sense tells us that if you own something you care for it more than if you lease it. Also owners are more likely to be responsible people since they can afford the credit and bonding to start their company. Leasers only need a CDL.

Table 2 is missing 50% of relevant data, but somehow the conclusion is that pay is the issue. Hmmmm. Even if they produced all the data, and it supported the claim all that shows is correlation, not causality, and they didn't even baseline against non taxi crashes.

This report is garbage.

Sarah Saez
Sarah Saez

Not a lot of people funding those kinds of studies but there is a behavioral science study that found drivers undergoing significant stress were five times more likely than other drivers to cause fatal accidents. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bs.3830140607/abstract

Question: Are you advocating for 16 hour work days?Research report: Risk of causing a fatal accident associated with alcoholism, psychopa-thology, and stress: Further analysis of previous data - Brenner - 2006 - Behavioral Science - Wiley Online Libraryhttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bs.3830140607/abstractBrenner, B. and Selzer, M. L. (1969), Research report: Risk of causing a fatal accident associated with alcoholism, psychopa-thology, and stress: Further analysis of previous data. Syst. Res., 14: 490-495. doi: 10.1002/bs.3830140607

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

What about crash rates by hours worked each day?