Fix the Prop. A cab problem

EDITORIAL The politics of Proposition A were pretty clear: the Muni reform measure had the backing of nearly every environmental and labor group in the city and was a direct alternative to the pro-car, pro-parking disaster that was Proposition H, pushed by Republican billionaire Don Fisher.

The policy is a little more complicated.

For the most part, Prop. A is a solid piece of legislation that will lead to some significant, if not earth-shaking, improvements in public transit. It has one serious flaw, though — it could lead to the demise of the city’s taxi medallion system, which was designed to keep the valuable operating permits in the hands of working drivers.

During the campaign, Sup. Aaron Peskin, the sponsor of Prop. A, told us that if the measure passed, he’d craft legislation to fix the cab problem. He should get going on that right away.

San Francisco has an unusual system of allocating taxi permits. Since 1978, when Proposition K (authored by then-supervisor Quentin Kopp) became law, only people who drive cabs are allowed to hold medallions. They can’t be sold or transferred in any way, and corporations can’t own them. That reform made it possible for drivers to share in the profits that come from holding the medallions — and the cab companies have been trying to repeal it ever since. Eight times in the past 30 years, corporate-led efforts to overturn Prop. K have failed.

The system isn’t perfect — it takes up to 15 years to qualify for a medallion, and some people on the wait list stopped driving cabs long ago. There are scams and cheaters. But overall, the notion that drivers — not cab companies, not investors, not giant conglomerates — have the exclusive right to the valuable permits is a good one, and it needs to be protected.

But there’s some fairly broad language in Prop. A that some, including Kopp (now a retired judge) and the cab drivers union, argue could allow the Board of Supervisors and the Municipal Transportation Agency to abolish Prop. K.

Peskin says that was never the intent of his measure — and when we endorsed Prop. A, we took him at his word. It’s time for him to demonstrate that commitment. It shouldn’t be hard to meet with the United Taxicab Workers and figure out how to frame a trailer bill that would ensure that neither the supervisors nor the MTA can undo Prop. K. If the city attorney agrees that the board has the authority to enact that kind of legislation, Peskin should introduce it as quickly as possible. And if protecting the essence of Prop. K requires another charter amendment, this would be an excellent time for Peskin to start the process for the June 2008 election. 2