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News + PoliticsTaxi drivers, disability-rights advocates oppose new Market St. traffic plan

Taxi drivers, disability-rights advocates oppose new Market St. traffic plan

Plus: UC Regents vote on huge new project -- and Willie Brown's Chronicle column will quietly disappear. That's The Agenda for Jan 19-26


The Municipal Transportation Agency is meeting Tuesday/19 to discuss a new plan for Market Street that would limit through traffic to buses, bicycles, and paratransit vehicles – and the beleaguered taxi industry and disability-rights advocates are strongly opposed.

The idea, of course, is to get traffic off Market, make it safer for pedestrians and bikes, and (maybe) move toward a future vision of a car-free boulevard.

There are 40 percent fewer cabs on the street today.

But right now, taxi drivers are getting hammered – by the city’s failure to protect them from Uber and Lyft, from COVID, and from the economic downturn. Not long ago, there were about 2,500 cabs on the streets of this city, most of them driven by immigrants and people of color. Now there are only 1,000. And the drivers can barely make a living.

From the beginning of the discussion about Market Street, cabs were considered a form of public transportation – and they still are, particularly for people with disabilities.

The plan would require all cabs to turn right every block on Market in the downtown area – making it costly and time-consuming to get residents or tourists around in that area.

The idea is that taxis drivers could pick up passengers, then go onto Mission Street or into the Tenderloin, drive around Market, and get back on the street for the one block of their destination.

Mission Street in that part of the city is already clogged with buses and cars. Adding taxis – making constant left turns – would make things way worse.

From the San Francisco taxi drivers alliance:

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We are also shocked to discover that, in the staff report for MTAB Item 11, someone changed the wording of Item 4 of the voter-approved Transit First Policy, conveniently removing the words “including taxis.” This is a new low. But misrepresenting the Transit First Policy does not change it. The policy calls for transit improvements, such as transit lanes, to expedite the movement of public transit—including taxis. It calls for travel by public transit, including taxis, by bicycles, and by foot, to be made an attractive alternative to travel by private automobile. Forced right turns off of Market Street will make travel by taxi less efficient and less attractive. That will mean a loss of income for taxi drivers and a loss of service to the public. Reduced taxi availability goes hand-in-glove with reduced taxi service; they are two sides of the same coin

Here’s the issue:

We know that someone flagging a cab on the north side of Market just west of Geary will see an approaching cab turn right and drive away. Yes, eventually another taxi may come along on Third Street and turn left onto Market, but how long will that take? If you’re cold, tired, laden with packages, elderly or disabled, it will feel like an eternity. That’s not just a lost business opportunity for an individual taxi driver, it’s not good taxi service.

When someone calls for a taxi or summons one via an app, he or she will also wait longer for service, since rides are dispatched to the closest taxi via GPS location–that is, to the closest taxi as the crow flies, not per SFMTA traffic rules. A taxi that is only two blocks away may not be willing or able to service the call if it is forced to turn right and fight its way through blocks of backed-up traffic to pick up the passenger. The call will likely be forwarded to taxi after taxi until it lands on one that just happens to be in a position from which it can readily reach the specific address.

We believe these scenarios will happen with some frequency. The long wait times for taxis will baffle tourists and leave those most dependent on taxi service, the elderly and people with disabilities, out in the cold. And the cumulative effect of poor taxi service will be an increasing turn to Uber and Lyft for those who are able to use them.

The impact of reduced taxi availability will not be borne equitably by all people on Market Street: those most affected will be the elderly and people with disabilities, who cannot walk to the corner to call Uber or Lyft, and the low-income workers, the busboys, security guards, hotel housekeepers, and others—the essential workers who comprise a significant part of our customer base– who lack credit cards or smart phones to use Uber or Lyft.

Bob Planthold, a longtime advocate for people with disabilities, notes:

NOBODY from the MTA board nor BMS staff have heard from MTA’s  formal disability advisory groups about OUR concerns  for safety in hailing, getting, in and getting out of a cab along Market St. Cabs are currently banned from the center / transit lane and possibly will have to turn off Market at 4 streets. Which means a person with a disability who is somewhere between any of these mandatory turn-offs has no way to audibly or manually hail” a cab.

That can leave we p.w.d.s. stranded.

I get that cabs are cars, and ultimately, cars don’t belong on Market – but right now, taxis are a part of the city’s transportation system, and unlike Uber and Lyft, are required to pick up any passenger in any part of town. There are hundreds of people – mostly immigrants — who borrowed as much as $250,000 to buy taxi medallions from the city with the understanding that the medallions would have value and would allow the owners to drive a cab and make a living – then under former Mayor Ed Lee, Uber and Lyft were allowed to violate the law, run illegal taxi services without permits or medallions, and drive many of those permit holders into financial ruin.

So this isn’t a simple issue of cars. It’s also an issue of equity for cab drivers and rights for people who have mobility issues. Not everyone can walk or ride a bike, and paratransit shuttles are limited at best.

The meeting starts at 1pm, and you can watch or comment here.

The UC Board of Regents meets this week, and on the agenda for the three-day session is approval of the development plans and environmental impact report for the massive Parnassus Heights project. Neighborhood advocates and some members of the Board of Supervisors want the vote delayed – not only because of its size, and the weakness of the city’s MOU, but because there’s nothing binding in the legal documents that would protect a set of historic murals on the campus.

The WPA murals, by Bernard Zackheim, a contemporary of Diego Rivera whose work is also on display at Coit Tower, cover walls in a building that UCSF wants to tear down.

The university, in its dealings with the city, now says it is going to protect the murals and find a way to move them – but none of those promises are legally binding.

What’s legally binding is the EIR, which states:

The University is currently assessing how best to relocate the large 10-panel set of murals, the “History of Medicine in California,” painted on the walls of Toland Hall auditorium in the century-old UC Hall. UC Hall is seismically deficient and functionally obsolescent, and is proposed to be replaced by a new facility that meets California’s seismic codes.

UCSF has determined that it may be infeasible to remove and relocate the murals as there is no guarantee that any effort to remove them would be successful.

This, of course, is the problem with the deal that the city struck with UC: The MOU is all based on “good faith.”

Sup. Aaron Peskin told me that, while UC has promised to save the murals, “they do not have an enforceable mitigation measure.”

During a hearing on the deal, the UCSF chancellor insisted that as a state agency, the school can’t sign a legally binding MOU with a city. That’s clearly untrue: After the City of Berkeley sued UC over its expansion plans more than 15 years ago, the two parties agreed to a legally binding settlement that requires the school to pay mitigations to the city. It’s not exactly a great deal – then-Mayor Tom Bates didn’t push UC enough – but it sets a clear precedent that a city can hold UC accountable with a legal document that can be enforced in court.

Mayor London Breed’s Office did not make any effort to do that, testimony at the board hearing showed.

The Regents Finance and Capital Strategies Committee will hear the issue Wednesday/20, and presumable if it’s approved it will go to the full board Thursday/21.

You can watch and comment here.

The Board of Supes Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee will hold a special hearing Wednesday/20 on the city’s plans for large-scale COVID vaccinations. Sup. Matt Haney has asked not only the Department of Public Health but UCSF and Kaiser to attend and explain what they have planned for the next few months.

The private health-care plans have been a mess so far – I know people over 65 who have waited more than four hours on the phone just to get an appointment with Kaiser.

I hope someone from the giant health-care system shows up to explain. The meeting starts at 11:30am.

Final note: Isn’t it interesting that news of the demise of Willie Brown’s Chronicle column came not in that paper but in Politico. To date, the Chron has said nothing about what happened – but as Joe Eskenazi reports in Mission Local, it’s pretty clear that the Chron staff was fed up with the constant ethics violations, and made that clear to the new editor.

Also interesting: Eskenazi writes:

I haven’t spoken with new Chron EIC Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, but I’d like to think he wondered how the hell this situation was ever permitted to commence in the first place, let alone fester for a dozen years. 

I haven’t spoken to the new Chron editor either. And this is a bit odd, since I have tried, and his predecessor, Audrey Cooper (who I often fought with) made a point of reaching out to and responding to all the other local news media.

In the old days, when I was at the Bay Guardian, the Chron and Ex, as part of a dubiously legal monopoly, fought with us for ad dollars and were part of the local power structure and I often felt we were at war with the mainstream local news media. Today, for all its many, may failings, I’m glad the Chron and the Ex still exist, and that Mission Local, and El Tecolote, and Berkeleyside, and so many other outlets are finding a way to survive and provide some form of local news.

I don’t need to talk to Garcia-Ruiz. But I do wonder why the new Chron editor isn’t reaching out to all of us.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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